Where the wind’s blowing
Region aims to be offshore-wind industry hub
If all goes according to plan, towering wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach will begin spinning out enough electricity in 2026 to power up to 660,000 homes.
Dominion Energy Inc.’s $9.8 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) farm will have 176 turbines — each rising 800 feet above the ocean, with around 8,000 parts apiece. Up until now, most of those components have been manufactured in Europe, but Virginia wants to change that.
The state scored a win in October 2021 when Spain-based Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy S.A., a partner with Dominion on the wind farm, committed to building the first offshore-wind turbine blade facility in the United States at Portsmouth Marine Terminal. Siemens says the plant will create 260 jobs and include a capital investment of more than $80 million to erect buildings and lease 80 acres of the property that’s part of the Port of Virginia. The company says infrastructure work should begin in 2023, with actual production scheduled for 2025.
“The Virginia blade facility will be enabled by the CVOW project,” says Brett Persons, offshore U.S. localization manager for Siemens Gamesa. “However, it’s envisioned to potentially support other offshore wind projects on the East Coast.”
Virginia’s ultimate goal? Make Hampton Roads the East Coast supply chain hub for the mushrooming offshore wind industry. With CVOW construction scheduled to begin in 2024, businesses are lining up for a share of the work. Virginia Beach is home to the necessary coastline, of course, but the city can’t do it alone.
“The Dominion project is important to Virginia, but I’d say our broader goal as a region is to be serving the [wind] industry,” says Matt Smith, director of offshore wind business development for the Hampton Roads Alliance. “We have a whole group of folks — the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the alliance, localities — talking to companies all up and down the supply chain about investing in Hampton Roads.”
The Biden administration has focused on promoting renewable energy, as well as building a more robust supply chain and workforce to design, build and maintain parts of turbines and other key equipment.
CVOW is projected to require around 900 workers for its construction phase and 1,100 employees for operation and maintenance during the next 30 years. There are currently plans for more than 30 offshore wind projects for the East Coast, including one off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, all of which could be a boon for Virginia. Analysts have estimated future wind farms could create between 5,000 and 6,000 additional jobs in Hampton Roads, Smith says.
“This is where a regional strategy wins for us because if you look at the cities in Hampton Roads, we all bring a different piece of the puzzle to the table,” says Taylor Adams, Virginia Beach’s deputy city manager and director of economic development. “We have great sites for suppliers and distribution, but we don’t have an abundance of deep-water port access. Portsmouth and Norfolk certainly have some of the critical pieces. Chesapeake has open land.”
It starts with Dominion, which is banking heavily on energy from its 112,800-acre ocean floor property that starts 27 miles off Virginia Beach and extends east another
15 miles. Dominion’s bid of $1.6 million won the federal government’s lease in 2013.
The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act requires the utility to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2045. Dominion has its own goal of reaching net-zero carbon dioxide and methane emissions from its power generation and natural gas operations by 2050.
In August, the Virginia State Corporation Commission approved Dominion’s application to build and recover costs of the wind farm, but there are still some details left to settle. Later in August, Dominion petitioned the commission to remove what it called an “involuntary performance guarantee” — making the utility financially responsible if CVOW doesn’t produce the amount of electricity promised due to factors beyond the utility’s control, such as severe weather or terrorist attacks. The SCC granted Dominion’s request for a review, and the matter is expected to be resolved this fall.
Even with that hitch, wind energy has gained plenty of momentum in terms of federal, state and corporate support.
“The Biden administration’s goal is to build out 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, so companies are considering their supply chain investments in the U.S. with respect to meeting that goal,” Smith says. “To get projects built using components that are manufactured in the U.S., we’d want to locate as much of that supply chain here as possible.”
That could include every major component, he adds: “The towers, foundations, blades, cables, even the actual wind turbine generators themselves.”
Experienced international players are already setting up shop in Hampton Roads. In addition to Siemens Gamesa, Danish offshore wind developer Ørsted has agreed to lease land at PMT to stage equipment through at least 2026, and Dominion is also leasing terminal property to preassemble the turbines’ foundations.
Three English energy-focused companies have office space in Virginia Beach, and the influx of these businesses has created a snowball effect, notes Laura Chalk, business development coordinator for the city. “It’s such a niche market, they all know each other,” she says. “We just had an Irish group in here for three days trying to get a feel for the area.”
In May, the Virginia Beach-based Miller Group purchased Lambert’s Point Docks in Norfolk from Norfolk Southern Railway Co., with plans to use it in part to support offshore wind operations. Now called Fairwinds Landing, the 111-acre property is expected to generate $100 million in investments and 500 jobs, starting later this year.
“Together, Portsmouth Marine Terminal and Lambert’s Point give us 400 really prime acres to base the development of the industry in Hampton Roads,” Smith says. “North Carolina did a study that looked at the best manufacturing sites for offshore wind in the country, and Portsmouth Marine Terminal and Lambert’s Point were ranked in the top three.”
The proposed North Carolina wind farm is being developed by Avangrid Renewables, a major player in the industry with projects in more than 20 states. Avangrid, headquartered in Connecticut, won the lease for 122,405 acres off the Outer Banks and is pitching the project as Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind. Still in the planning stages, Kitty Hawk Offshore would be similar in scale to Dominion’s CVOW, generating 2.5 gigawatts of energy as compared with CVOW’s 2.6 gigawatts. Likewise, it anticipates sending considerable business to Virginia.
“We expect that the Hampton Roads area would be a major beneficiary of this project,” says Ken Kimmel, vice president of offshore wind development for Avangrid. “And we see Virginia Beach playing an important role by serving as a landing location for some or all of our cables.”
Avangrid’s proposal to bring its Kitty Hawk cables ashore at Sandbridge in southern Virginia Beach has stirred up opposition among some residents; Dominion’s cables will land a few miles north at the State Military Reservation, then work their way west through Oceana Naval Air Station.
Avangrid, which already has a 104-turbine onshore wind farm near Elizabeth City just south of the Virginia border, projects that the Kitty Hawk wind farm’s construction phase alone would add 799 jobs and $390 million to the Virginia economy. Adds Kimmel: “We are also looking at many other opportunities along the East Coast, including the mid-Atlantic.”
Virginia Beach’s Adams says the city has been “in almost constant contact with the Avangrid team.”
Further inland — 240 miles west of Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront, to be precise — is New College Institute in Martinsville. In 2021, NCI became the first location in Virginia to offer Global Wind Organisation certification, a requirement for anyone working on an offshore wind turbine.
Most of the 30 or so people who have gone through the program have come from out of state, with their employers paying the way, says NCI’s advanced manufacturing trainer/instructor Evan Kissel. But he expects that to change soon, following the SCC’s approval of CVOW.
NCI offers two one-week courses: basic technical training and safety training. Among the safety assignments: learning how to get a 150-pound dummy down a ladder that can be almost three football fields high.
“The goal is for it to not ever happen,” says Kissel, “but things do happen, and people do get hurt. Generally, when you’re on a site doing maintenance, you’re working in two-man crews, and you’d hope the other guy knows how to help you.”
The NCI program is part of a state workforce initiative that also includes offshore wind training at Tidewater Community College, Centura College in Virginia Beach and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy in Norfolk.
The region’s workforce is part of the sales pitch to prospective businesses, says Smith: “Workforce, port infrastructure, the shipbuilding industry — we see offshore wind as fitting into our existing maritime infrastructure. As the industry grows and moves south, we’re in a strategically located area. We have physical infrastructure available and ready, and that’s not the case everywhere. We have a workforce well-suited to the industry, the largest maritime workforce in the country.”
Another advantage, says Smith, is that Virginia is “generally a lower-cost state” to conduct business in, especially compared with New York and New Jersey, where the federal government held a February auction for six wind leases, yielding $4.37 billion.
One question that remains is what will result from Virginia’s noticeable absence from the White House’s Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership, which includes 11 other East Coast states led by governors from both political parties. President Joe Biden, who recently signed a spending bill with more than $300 billion in energy and climate reform, including $60 billion in renewable energy infrastructure, created the partnership to speed up offshore wind development.
Tackling an emerging industry has serious challenges, and while wind power is not new — it dates back to 2000 B.C. in China — offshore wind technology is up to the minute, especially in this country.
“If you look at the history of development, we’ve been an exporter of intellectual property in the U.S.,” Adams says. “But this is one of the first times in the last century that the U.S. is importing an industry. We can learn from the investments that have already been made overseas. So instead of having to write the future here, there’s a playbook we can already use.”