Thomas Brostrom: Virginia should go all-in on wind energy

Op-Ed by Thomas Brostrom
The Virginian-Pilot

In July 2017, Ørsted North America was excited and proud to stand with Dominion Energy, Virginia’s then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and other state and local officials to announce a partnership to build the first wind turbines in federal waters, off the coast of Virginia.

Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind is an exciting and important demonstration project that marks the first step in the large-scale offshore wind-energy generation that will power Virginia’s economy into the future.

The offshore wind industry has existed in Europe for nearly three decades. It began in 1991, when our company installed the first turbines in the world, off the coast of Denmark. Ørsted, which has installed more than 25 percent of the world’s current offshore wind capacity, with a total of 23 projects and 4,000 megawatts of capacity, has seen the industry grow and mature.

We are excited to bring this experience to Virginia, but there is much work to be done. The offshore wind market is in its infancy in the United States. It is critical that states that want to attract the industry send strong signals to the market of their commitment to supporting industry growth. The economic development opportunities are immense. In Europe, the offshore wind industry employes more than 75,000 people and is the fastest-growing energy technology in many countries.

Virginia has the chance to leverage its port assets, high-quality workforce and favorable business climate to become a major hub for the supply chain. However, this must be coupled with strong public policy signals from state and local leaders that this industry is valued.

I am encouraged by the Virginia General Assembly and the governor’s office, which have demonstrated a clear commitment to seeing substantive and sustainable growth in the offshore wind industry in the commonwealth.

The most visible signal to date is the passage and signing into law of the Grid Transformation Act of 2018. This compromise legislation declares that 5,000 megawatts of solar and wind, including the CVOW project, would be in the public interest. Equally important, these 5,000 megawatts could be installed within the next decade.

This is a clear policy declaration that lawmakers and the governor expect clean energy to play a significant role in Virginia’s fuel mix.

However, this goal cannot be achieved simply by focusing on solar or offshore wind. Offshore wind provides a large-scale, efficient and renewable resource far enough away from the coast to be out of sight, but close enough to effectively transmit the power to the grid. It is deployed where the wind resource is robust, consistent and predictable, with the highest capacity among renewable resources, because the wind almost always blows at sea. And there is currently an established area off the coast that could generate at least 2,000 megawatts of energy when it’s fully developed.

The Grid Transformation Act has the potential to transform the Virginia economy, both by substantially accelerating the deployment of offshore wind and by making known to all industries that demand clean power that Virginia would provide fertile ground for them to grow and prosper.

These steps must be just the beginning. Other states are moving quickly to deploy turbines and attract suppliers.

The next step is for Virginia to get turbines into the water quickly, while establishing a firm pathway to development of the larger commercial wind area. CVOW can be the gateway to that large-scale deployment.

The deployment can be the catalyst for significant job creation and capital investment that could make Virginia a major offshore wind hub in the nation.

These are the benefits for a state that gets into offshore wind early.