Commentary: Riding the Wind

Commentary: Riding the Wind

The Commonwealth is finally starting to gain traction with renewable energy, so I wanted to highlight some of the work being done throughout Virginia. Obviously this is just a starting point and there needs to be more investment in the future, but for now I want to give credit where credit is due.

Dominion Energy is moving forward on the mid-Atlantic's first offshore wind project in a federal lease area. It signed an agreement and strategic partnership with a Danish company, DONG Energy, to build two 6-megawatt turbines about 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.

Over the last four years, Dominion Energy has grown its solar portfolio from zero to 2500 acres and this project is a part of the General Assembly's mandate to increase the amount of energy Dominion receives from renewable sources, and they should continue to do more.

The U.S. wind power industry is booming and we expect continued growth. Wind is among the fastest-growing energy employers and posted an 11 percent hike in output from Q1 of 2016, generating 65,000 megawatt-hours. Far less than fossil fuels, but far more than the 2000 MWh in 2001.

Wind's potential capacity beats other renewables. Turbines supplied 5.5 percent of U.S. power in 2016 thanks to Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and the Dakotas, wind could eventually supply 50 percent of some states' electricity needs.

Bipartisan political support can expand it more if the President listens to our calls for R&D funding, tax credits and new regulations to let turbines spin faster.

Dominion's work on this project will begin immediately as DONG Energy engineers and develops the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project (CVOW), with a target installation date of 2020. The installation date is subject to factors such as weather and protecting species migration patterns.

CVOW will be only the second offshore wind project in the nation and the first built by an electric utility company. CVOW will sit on a 2135-acre site in federal waters and could lead to the development of additional wind turbines in the adjacent 112,800-acre site leased by Dominion Energy from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Full deployment of wind technology in this leased area could generate up to 2,000 megawatts of electricity — enough energy to power half-a-million homes.

Dominion Energy initially began work in 2011 on the project, previously called the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Assessment Project (VOWTAP), as part of a U.S. Department of Energy grant to develop and test new wind technologies that could lower costs and withstand hurricanes.

Wind energy can also be a great source for good, union jobs. Turbine technicians make an average of $52,000 annually and the U.S. Labor Dept. projects 108 percent job growth by 2024 from 2014's level. With over 50,000 wind turbines in the nation, there’s a lot of operations and maintenance to be done.

Clearly renewable energy like wind and solar is an exciting opportunity for energy infrastructure investment and will provide a growing source of energy in the future as we expand alternatives to coal and oil beyond the current nuclear and natural gas alternatives.