By Tamara Dietrich
Virginia’s foray into offshore wind power got a lift Wednesday when Gov. Ralph Northam announced international energy consultant BVG Associates was hired to leverage the state as a coastal leader for the industry.
And BVG’s Advisory Director Andy Geissbuehler wasted no time in getting to work.
At a public listening session held in the Gaines Theatre at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Geissbuehler said his goal is to see Virginia play “a substantial role in the offshore wind industry on the East Coast, and is going to go further.”
And, while the U.S. has lagged many European nations for years in commercial offshore wind energy, it likely won’t take long to catch up.
“Everyone knows the U.S. will be a massive offshore wind market, and the U.S. will be very fast in picking up and catching up with some of the current market leaders, and will probably develop to one of the No. 1 markets globally,” Giessbuehler said.
The listening session was part of a series to let the public weigh in on Northam’s 2018 Virginia Energy Plan.
Wednesday’s was the only session to focus on offshore wind power and to be held in Hampton Roads.
Every governor must craft a plan to offer a strategic vision for the state’s energy policy. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is responsible for drafting the plan and submitting it by Oct. 1 to the governor, the State Corporation Commission and the General Assembly.
Out of an audience of some 40 people in the CNU theater, several spoke after the formal presentation. While some had questions about the efficacy of offshore wind energy, none opposed the idea.
A few were concerned that wind could be a fickle resource for electricity, and that ocean turbines might interfere with military operations at sea.
Newport News City Council member Pat Woodbury said she “has always been in favor” of offshore wind power, but wondered if the Army and Navy were truly on board.
“Is that really valid that they are supporting this?” Woodbury asked.
Angela Navarro, deputy secretary of commerce and trade, assured her that the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had conducted “very comprehensive conversations with stakeholders, including the Department of Defense,” when choosing Atlantic sites for lease sales.
Geissbuehler said Virginia has a “very solid offshore wind regime.”
Conditions are ripe for the state to begin ramping up offshore wind energy, he said. The Northeast coast, which has “very good wind,” is leading the way so far with the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island.
Block Island is the country’s first commercial offshore wind farm. Its developer, Deepwater Wind, is working to build other projects off Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
There’s still a learning curve in the industry, Geissbuehler said, but as the market keeps advancing, the industry learns how to work more efficiently and the supply chain matures, the cost of offshore wind has dropped dramatically.
Over the last few months have come power purchase agreements for 1.9 GW of power from offshore wind, he said, primarily in the Northeast.
“And the industry will then migrate along the coast toward Virginia,” Geissbuehler said. “So there’s a lot of movement, and we’re already active on the ground.”
He called the state’s energy plan “visionary” for pushing offshore wind power and recognizing the need to aggressively attract a supply chain and service industry.
“We wanted this energy plan this time around to be really directional,” said Navarro. “Not a document that sits on a shelf, but something that’s a little more flexible, adaptable and really lays out a clear vision for where we’ll be heading over the next 3 ½ years.”
Partnering with BVG in its new role are Ramboll Group A/S, Timmons Group, Greentree Consulting LLC and the Business Network for Offshore Wind.
In a statement Wednesday, Northam said the partnership is taking “significant steps forward to secure our clean energy future and … establish Virginia as the prime location for the offshore wind industry, from the supply chain to the full build-out of Virginia’s offshore wind resources.”
In 2013, BOEM granted Dominion Energy the right to develop commercial wind power in a 112,800-acre site about 25 miles off the Virginia coast.
That project stalled, largely due to the cost. But last summer Dominion partnered with Danish energy giant Orsted to develop a two-turbine test site to determine if a larger commercial project would be feasible.
Those two 6-megawatt test turbines could be operational by 2021. Dominion’s large commercial site, if developed, could support up to 300 turbines powering as many as 500,000 homes.
As the state develops its energy plan, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club is holding a series of town halls on offshore wind power. Its next local event is set for 7 p.m. Monday at Hampton University, in McGrew Towers Conference Center at 24 Indian Road.
The town hall is free and open to the public, but those expecting to attend are asked to RSVP at bit.ly/2L7uOhN.