Dominion wind project off Virginia Beach will move forward
PORTSMOUTH — A little more than a year ago, Dominion Energy faced a torrent of criticism for letting lapse a $40 million federal grant for an offshore wind power pilot project. Critics contended it meant the utility was never serious about pursuing wind as a generation source.
Among those upset over the lost money: Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“There was a lot of displeasure when we lost that federal grant. I worked very hard to get that $40 million federal grant, so I called the secretary of energy myself, but the decision had already been made. I was very unhappy about it,” McAuliffe, a Democrat, said in an interview. “But the good news is we’re past that. … We’ve rekindled it.”
As a testament to how much difference a year can make, McAuliffe was among a string of local, state and federal elected officials at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal on Monday as the utility giant announced a partnership with a European energy firm that is expected to deliver a pair of 6-megawatt turbines about 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach by the end of 2020.
The turbines, which will rise about 600 feet above the sea surface, with a rotor diameter of about 500 feet, will be anchored in about 80 feet of water and connect to a transmission line that will run to Camp Pendleton.
The project, which Dominion says will be out of sight for beachgoers, would be just the second offshore wind development in the country. The first was the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island that became operational in 2016. But Dominion’s project, estimated to cost $300 million that the company will seek to recover from ratepayers, will be the first owned by an electric utility.
“We have been working on this for a long time and it has been far from easy,” said Thomas Farrell , Dominion’s CEO, president and chairman. “The technology is complex, the ocean is a very difficult place to work, and the economics are challenging in those conditions.”
Farrell, McAuliffe and other officials said the pilot could eventually lead to 2,000 megawatts of wind on a 112,800-acre site leased by Dominion from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
For comparison, Dominion’s Chesterfield Power Station, the largest fossil fuel-fired plant in Virginia, generates 1,640 megawatts. Mark Mitchell, Dominion’s vice president of generation construction, said the company expects to see the price of wind power components continue to fall, similar to the drop in price that is fueling a solar boom.
Crucial to the announcement Monday was linking up with Dong Energy, a Denmark-based energy group that has installed 22 wind projects around the world that generate 3.9 gigawatts, enough to power about 2 million U.S. homes. Lauren Burm, a spokeswoman for Dong, which has a U.S. office in Boston, said the two companies entered into talks on the Virginia Beach project within the past six months.
“Our partners from Europe know how to harness offshore wind and convert it,” Farrell said. “We know how to deliver it to homes and businesses across Virginia. We’ve searched for years for a reliable partner with whom we could reach an agreement that would allow us to proceed and at the same time keep the project affordable and protect our customers. … It took a lot of years and a lot work to get here today. That’s how major energy projects happen.”