Today, more than 50 elected officials, small businesses, community groups, environmental organizations, and health professionals sent a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe calling on him to embrace offshore wind as a key part of the Commonwealth’s energy plan. The letter comes in the wake of last month’s announcement by Dominion Energy of plans for two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia and as other states along the Atlantic seaboard move forward with their own offshore wind projects.
“Virginia has immense potential to harness the vast energy from the winds off its shores,” said Connor Rockett on behalf of Environment Virginia. “A clear commitment from the Governor to develop and invest in offshore wind power would help transition us from fossil fuels and move Virginia closer to a future powered entirely by clean, renewable energy.”
In 2013, the federal government leased an ocean area 23.5 miles off the Virginia coast to Dominion Energy for $1.6 million. The area is capable of supporting a 2000 megawatt wind farm, which would power 700,000 homes. The two turbines Dominion Energy announced will produce 12 megawatts and should pave the way for more ambitious plans.
“Meaningful progress on this clean, renewable energy source is now more critical than ever as the window of time to combat global climate change narrows,” said David Carr, General Counsel at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “With action stalling at the federal level, it is up to states to take the lead in reducing carbon emissions.”
While Governor McAuliffe has made promising statements about the future of offshore wind power, the letter urges him to back up those statements with tangible investments and a specific target for energy production.
Simon Mahan of the Southern Wind Energy Alliance commented on the announcement, saying, “Virginia is well positioned to reap the economic benefits of offshore wind farm development. With strong energy demand, good wind resources, port access, excellent academic institutions and maritime know-how, the Old Dominion can usher in a new era of economic development.”
Despite the lease sale, progress in the development of offshore wind has advanced extremely slowly. Dominion Energy lost a $40 million federal grant for offshore wind projects in May of 2016 after delaying earlier plans for the two turbine demonstration project.
Virginia’s coast is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, with the Hampton Roads area behind only New Orleans in susceptibility to flooding damage caused by rising seas. From an economic perspective, the letter highlights “the risk that sea level rise and storm surges pose to valuable development along Virginia’s coastline, including military installations that drive the coastal economy.”
Speaking on behalf of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, Dr. Samantha Ahdoot spoke about these effects, noting that they “are felt disproportionately in vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and the disadvantaged. By shifting to renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions, states can protect citizens and communities from these threats to their health, safety and security.”
The nation’s first offshore wind farm began powering Block Island, Rhode Island in May of this year. Several other projects are in the pipeline in New York and Massachusetts. If Dominion Energy follows through on its announcement, Virginia’s demonstration project could be the second in the nation, with operation by the end of 2020.
“With the ball moving forward again, a clear direction from the Governor will help to speed up that process,” said Rockett. “Now is the time to act.”