The U.S. leads all other countries in terms of land-based wind power-generating capacity, but has yet to install any offshore wind, despite the presence of excellent offshore wind resources in four regions – the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Northwest, and the East Coast. Europe holds the lead in terms of installed offshore wind capacity and continues to expand, and development interest has spread more recently to Canada and China. Significant progress has been made within the past four years on the regulatory front in the U.S., and leases are now being offered to companies on a competitive basis by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop offshore wind. Likewise, offshore wind technologies are advancing in response to support from the U.S. Department of Energy which will ultimately reduce the cost of generating power offshore.
The waters off the coast of Virginia are particularly attractive for wind power development, given that the winds are known to be strong and steady and that the extended outer continental shelf provides shallow waters (by wind development standards) far out to sea. In the figure below, the areas depicted as lighter and darker magenta are predicted to have average annual wind speeds between 8 and 9 meters per second (m/s) which is considered appropriate for wind power development. Current plans call for more than 1,000 MW of wind power to be installed within the next decade in an area due East of Virginia beach, ranging from 25 to 40 miles off the coast, a distance at which the turbine will not be visible from the coast.
More than 20 offshore wind projects representing more than 2,000 MW of power-generating capacity are in the planning and/or permitting process, many of these activities are taking place in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Because of the generous wind and water resources off the coast of Virginia, as well as large ports, accessibility to those ports, an appropriate workforce in our coastal communities, to name only a few attributes, Virginia is likely to be one of the first states in the nation to develop commercial offshore wind. The first steps have already been taken with the auction of the Virginia Wind Energy Area.
Our state government demonstrated an earnest attempt to advance offshore wind in 2006 when the General Assembly passed the Virginia Energy Plan which called for the formation of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC). With state support, the university and industry partners associated with VCERC engaged in parallel efforts to determine the feasibility of offshore wind in Virginia, and reported in 2010 that indeed the potential existed for cost-effective development. By this time the federal government was very active in developing the regulatory framework that would ultimately provide the means for awarding leases to companies that presented the interest and qualifications to develop offshore wind in federal waters. The Virginia Offshore Wind (VOW) coalition was established in 2009 to represent companies engaged in this developing industry, and in 2010 the General Assembly passed legislation to form the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority (VOWDA) which was charged to represent the interests of the Commonwealth and further advance offshore wind in Virginia. It was announced in Fall 2013 that Dominion Virginia Power had won the auction hosted by the U.S. Department of Interior to secure leases to develop the Wind Energy Area (WEA) defined by a federal/state/local task force and approved by the Obama administration as the future site of commercial offshore wind in Virginia.
While this is a first and very important step in bringing offshore wind to the Commonwealth, it will take an estimated ten years, according to Dominion, for the first wind turbines to be deployed. According to BOEM regulations, Dominion must submit a full constructions and operations plan for the WEA within the next five years. BOEM must then perform thorough environmental analyses of the proposal, expected to take between two to three years. If Dominion’s wind farm proposal is approved, an operations term of 33 years will be added to the lease.
The Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone transmission project is sponsored by Google and other large corporations, and presents the concept of an offshore, undersea transmission line that would span the Mid-Atlantic region between New Jersey and Virginia and would connect offshore wind facilities as they are constructed. Once completed, the AWC would support the development of up to 6,000 MW of offshore wind power, enough to power more than two million homes, and would facilitate a new offshore wind industry that could create tens of thousands of new jobs in the U.S.
In 2012, Dominion Virginia Power was one of seven projects selected by the U.S Department of Energy to develop an offshore wind demonstration facility. The award supports the initial engineering, design, and permitting of the project which will feature a 6-MW wind turbine design developed by Alstom, a European wind turbine manufacturer with research offices in Richmond, Virginia.
In May 2014, Dominion Virginia Power was awarded an additional $47 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to help fund the construction of their offshore demonstration project. The additional funding is for desiging, developing and demonstrating a grid-connected 12-MW offshore wind facility consisting of TWO 6-MW Alstom wind turbines on innovative foundations. For more information about this project see https://www.dom.com/corporate/what-we-do/electricity/generation/wind/virginia-offshore-wind-technology-advancement-project.
The Center for Wind Energy has created an interactive map displaying various layers relevant to offshore wind projects.
The Map and Data Viewer allows users to view important layers that have guided the siting of potential offshore wind sites. Layers include the lease blocks, critical habitat areas, wind speeds, and underwater obstructions, among many others.