VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A $9.8 billion project to put up to 176 wind turbines about 27 miles off the Virginia Beach coast — the largest offshore wind farm to date in the U.S. — received federal approval Tuesday.
The Department of the Interior gave its formal blessing to Dominion Energy’s 2.6 gigawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind commercial project, its fifth such approval during President Biden’s administration.
When fully built, the projects are expected to add more than five gigawatts of renewable energy to the nation’s grid, enough to power 1.75 million homes. Each turbine will have a capacity of 14.7 megawatts.
The project off the Virginia Beach coast is expected to power an estimated 900,000 homes while supporting thousands of jobs and adding 2,600 megawatts of clean energy to the grid. The project is expected to be completed by 2026 and satisfy the mandates of the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
“Receiving a favorable record of decision from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is a monumental achievement for Dominion Energy and the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind team,” said Dominion Energy president and CEO Bob Blue in a statement. “More than a decade of work has gone into the development, design and permitting of (the project). Offshore wind is a vital part of our strategy to provide our customers with a diverse fuel mix that delivers reliable, affordable and increasingly clean energy.”
The Department of Transportation also announced more than $39 million in federal funding through the Port Infrastructure Development Program for the Norfolk Economic Development Authority, which is working to convert an existing marine terminal and berth to an offshore wind logistics facility to support the coastal Virginia Beach wind farm and other projects.
That money will be used to transform Lamberts Point — also known as Fairwinds Landing — into an offshore wind hub.
In a joint statement, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, along with Rep. Bobby Scott, said they were thrilled about the Biden administration’s approval of the project.
“Today’s announcement reaffirms Virginia as a leader of offshore wind,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of stakeholders in the region, investments we’ve secured to support the Port of Virginia and legislation we passed in Congress, like the Inflation Reduction Act, to advance clean energy. We look forward to continuing to work with regional leaders during the next phases of the project and seeing the positive impacts this will have for the region’s economy.”
The legislators touted the $20 million in funding for improvements to Portsmouth Marine Terminal allowing for it to become a staging area to support manufacturing and movement of offshore wind products to support the project.
Scott said that, as co-chairman of the Offshore Wind Caucus, “I will continue to support the development of clean energy resources as a key source of affordable, domestically-produced energy and creator of good jobs.”
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management must still approve Dominion Energy’s construction and operations plan as required by its renewable energy regulation and other required federal and state authorizations. That decision is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2024. Currently, there are two pilot turbines that have been in place since 2020.
The approval through the Interior Department’s record of decision, however, represents a major milestone cleared for Dominion Energy.
An environmental review of the project found that while it would help cut local air pollution, it also had the potential to disrupt the local fishery, wetlands and whale migration. Dominion agreed to relocated seven turbines from known fish havens in the northern zone for the project while compensating local fisheries for any of their losses.
Federally-permitted fishing takes place in the lease area, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has issued permits for about 4,300 vessels currently involved in commercial and for-hire recreational fisheries from Maine to Virginia. Of these, an average of 161 vessels per year over 14 years have reported fishing in the lease area, and most permits “source less than 0.2% of their income from the lease area.”
A trio of wind turbine generators would also be excluded in the northwest corner of the lease area for the project to avoid a proposed vessel traffic fairway.
It will also build about 14.3 miles of interconnection cables entirely overhead from north of Harpers Road and routed to the onshore substation and the new Harpers Switching Station at a property on Naval Air Station Oceana — the Virginia State Corporation Commission has already approved this. An overhead interconnection cable route would then connect this new switching station to the Fentress Substation in Chesapeake.
There will be no restrictions on vessels navigating the project area, but wind turbine generators and offshore substations will be lighted to aid in vessel navigation. There is no expected impact to flight operations at NAS Oceana, and since the wind turbine generators will be built under the Federal Aviation Administration flight level ceiling, they are not expected to affect commercial or military flight operations. Low-level flights would be affected.
The project off the Virginia Beach coast is expected to provide about 900 jobs yearly during the construction phase and support about 1,100 jobs annually when it’s operational, which the Biden administration says will generate “vital economic development for Virginia’s Hampton Roads area and supporting investments in the Virginia coastal region as a hub for offshore wind development and support.”
Dominion said more than 750 Virginia-based workers, including nearly 530 in the Hampton Roads region, have been engaged on the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project or are with other businesses supporting it. That includes redevelopment work at Portsmouth Marine Terminal, the building of the offshore wind monitoring and coordination center, maritime provisioning, ship repairs, heavy lifting and rigging, cybersecurity, food service and hospitality.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said, that in partnership with various stakeholders, it is aggressively moving toward clean energy goals.
“The Interior Department is committed to the Biden-Harris administration’s all-of-government approach to the clean energy future, which helps respond to the climate crisis, lower energy costs and create good-paying union jobs across the manufacturing, shipbuilding and construction sectors,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement. “Today’s approval of the largest offshore wind project in U.S. history builds on the undeniable momentum we are seeing.”
The first eight monopile foundations for the coastal Virginia Beach project were just delivered to Portsmouth Marine Terminal last week as construction is expected to start next spring. The 250-foot monopiles weigh in at nearly 1,500 tons each.
Virginia regulators gave approval last December to Dominion Energy’s plans.
There has been some push back on a plan to bring wind energy cables ashore at Sandbridge for another proposed wind farm project off the coast of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
Below is the copy of the Department of Interior’s record of decision: