The deployment of utility-scale wind has advanced at a remarkable rate throughout the United States since the 1990’s, increasing during the past two decades from less than 1 to nearly 4% of our nation’s electric power generation. Wind power has grown at a rate, during this period, faster than any other power-generating source. Wind energy contributed 42% of new generating capacity installed during 2012, making wind power the number one source of new capacity for the year. However, despite presenting excellent wind resources on land and offshore, Virginia remains one of the few states in the mid-Atlantic region within which no utility-scale wind power has been built.
Existing wind resource maps, developed with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, show that Virginia offers a valuable wind resource with the potential for development of projects of various size and scale.
In Virginia there are already a number of residential, business, and school wind installations and the potential exists for the development of community wind projects. Despite the scarce wind resource that you may interpret from the wind resource map of Virginia, there is the potential for utility-scale projects producing up to 2,000 MW onshore and up to 89,000 MW offshore (http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51946.pdf).
Despite various development efforts in the last 15 years, as well as concerted efforts by the Center for Wind Energy, utility-scale development remains elusive in Virginia. An array of factors are responsible for this, including utility and political structures that are not conducive to rapid development of clean and renewable power generating capacity.
Numerous companies are actively seeking to develop utility-scale wind projects in Virginia, some of whom are identified on the map below. The strongest winds in the Commonwealth are found in the western highlands, along the Appalachian ridges, and thus where most development efforts have been focused. However, more recently with the advent of advanced wind turbine technologies that can operate cost-effectively in lower wind speeds, there has been increased interest in counties that present little or no mountainous terrain, but nonetheless could present opportunity for development. The offshore wind resource in Virginia is recognized as one of the best in the U.S., and is currently being studied by Dominion Virginia Power and other organizations.
Actions in recent years taken by Virginia General Assembly and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality demonstrate a recognition and effort by our state officials to advance wind energy in Virginia. Unlike other states in our region, however, Virginia lacks an adequate Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and other regulatory tools or statutes common elsewhere that could impact development more effectively. Utility-scale wind can provide power on a per kilowatt-hour (kWh) basis less expensively than nearly any other source, with the added benefit of zero emission of carbon and other pollutants. Regardless, such development in Virginia may remain only an idea, until additional measures are taken that accommodate the unique nature of this indigenous and plentiful energy source.