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States Vie To Become Suppliers To A Future Offshore Wind Boom

Dominion Energy says its 2-turbine offshore wind pilot project in the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia Beach is ready for commercial service.
Dominion Energy
Dominion Energy says its two-turbine offshore wind pilot project in the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia Beach is ready for commercial service.

Dominion Energy said Wednesday that a wind energy pilot project off the Virginia coast is ready for commercial service. The utility wants to make the port of Hampton Roads the hub for building future offshore wind projects along the East Coast.

But North Carolina also has its eye on that business.

Dominion's $300 million project includes two wind turbines 27 miles off Virginia Beach. It will generate 12 megawatts of electricity, enough to power up to 3,000 homes.

"This is a monumental day for the Commonwealth and the burgeoning offshore wind industry in America," Joshua Bennett, Dominion Energy vice president of offshore wind, said in a press release. "Our team has worked diligently with key stakeholders and regulators while safely navigating through the coronavirus pandemic to complete this vitally important project that is a key step to reducing carbon emissions."

Dominion says it's the first U.S. offshore wind project to be built in federal waters. The nation's first offshore wind farm opened off Rhode Island's Block Island in 2016.

The project still needs a final technical review from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which is expected to be finished by year's end.

Eyes On A Growing Business

Eventually, Dominion wants to build hundreds more offshore turbines in the Atlantic. And companies in other states are planning their own projects — all of which will require an on-shore supply chain for parts, equipment and local expertise. So Dominion is promoting Hampton Roads as the supply hub of this emerging East Coast wind industry.

Dominion says that will create thousands of jobs. North Carolina also sees that potential. So the state Department of Commerce is in the midst of a study on how to develop an offshore wind supply chain in North Carolina.

"There are thousands of parts that go into an offshore wind turbine, anything from bolts and screws to electrical wire to steel and cabling to engineering parts," said John Hardin, who oversees the commerce department's Office of Science, Technology & Innovation.

Some parts — like the massive turbine blades or towers — can't be made elsewhere and shipped. They're just too big, Hardin said.

"It helps to have a large percentage of the parts made close to the area as well, so that you have a whole supply chain network that can interact easily," he said.

Stephen Kalland runs the North Carolina Clean Technology Center at NC State University, which is consulting on the study. He said leases for offshore wind sites could eventually result in projects with a generation capacity of 36 gigawatts of electricity.

"This study is really looking at what can we do as a state to capture some of that 36-gigawatt, multi-billion dollar value chain associated with the build-out of this offshore wind opportunity," Kalland said.

North Carolina's Potential

North Carolina is farther behind in planning for offshore wind energy, though high wind speeds off the state's coast make it promising.

A company called Avangrid Renewables has a federal lease to build a wind farm 27 miles off Kitty Hawk and is in the early planning stages. Avangrid also runs Amazon's giant wind farm on farmland near Elizabeth City, the state's first wind project.

And Duke Energy also has said it's interested in offshore wind power in the future.

The commerce department study is supposed to identify potential suppliers as well as competitive gaps that need to be addressed. A report is due early next year.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.