Virginia’s offshore wind industry is ripe with potential and challenges
- June 22, 2011
Winds off the Atlantic coast have the potential to be a huge energy source for the U.S., a federal official said Wednesday. During a keynote address to more than 300 people at a wind development conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, Ned Farquhar, a deputy assistant secretary in the U. S. Department of the Interior, described the offshore wind northward from North Carolina and Virginia as “high capacity,” with the ability to produce electricity 40 percent of the time.
Yet the development of an offshore wind industry in Hampton Roads will be challenging, he added, “It’s a new industry trying to attract pioneer investments and engineering.” Plus, many stakeholders will need to be involved, including the military and local communities concerned about things such as tourism and migratory fowl.
Members of the region’s maritime industry filled nearly every chair during panel discussions on everything from logistics to financing. Corine E. Barbour, general superintendent of Lambert’s Point Docks Inc. in Norfolk, said , “I came to see if wind is the next big thing and, if so, where do we fit in?”
Several speakers recognized the area’s existing shipbuilding industry, deep harbor and railroad and trucking services as natural attributes that could support the development of a new offshore wind industry. Charles Baker, with BAE Systems, noted that 9 percent of the region’s work force, or about 68,580 people, are involved in shipbuilding and repair — an industry with an economic impact of just under $10 billion. “We have the skills set, the educational background. We should be seeking to leverage what we already have and to build off of that,” he said.
Even with these strengths, Neil Rondorf, a vice president with SAIC, said more training would be needed to create a pipeline of workers. “Safety would be paramount. It would be like building a 100-floor skyscraper. We need full engagement across the board from the maritime industries and we need to get all the elements engaged right now.”
Under new federal guidelines, the Department of the Interior has expedited the licensing process for offshore wind licenses. By requiring an environmental assessment rather than a full environmental impact statement, the process for obtaining a federal license has been cut nearly in half, Farquhar said. Asked how long the process would take now, he responded that approval could take three to four years, from start to finish. “It would vary depending on the findings of the environmental assessment, the developer and the engineering.” He said an environmental assessment of the area including the Virginia coast should be released in a day or so.
Moving expeditiously on wind development, said Farquhar, will bring the U. S. three freedoms: freedom from damaging fuel price spikes —which disrupt the economy — freedom from oil dependence and the freedom to better protect the environment.