VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A plan to bring high voltage cables ashore at Sandbridge as part of a new wind energy farm is being opposed by a group of residents living in and around the beachfront community, while others argue it should be embraced.
In a public meeting with Virginia Beach City Council last month, several dozen people voiced their concerns as well as their support for Avangrid Resources’ plan to place 180 wind turbine generators on roughly 100,000 acres 36 miles from Virginia Beach, east off the coast of Corolla, N.C.
Also known as the “Kitty Hawk Wind” project, Avangrid acquired the federal lease area in the Atlantic Ocean in 2017 for $9 million. The company said they anticipate having the ability to produce 3.5 gigawatts of power with the ability to power over one million homes.
However in order to move forward they need the city to approve an easement to bring the cables ashore. The project manager admits the company doesn’t even know who will use the electricity.
The push for renewable energy has ramped up exponentially over the last decade as changing weather patterns make the realities of climate change more real.
The pitch for offshore wind energy isn’t new to anyone in Virginia Beach or all of Hampton Roads for that matter, as Virginia’s largest public electric utility, Dominion Energy, is currently developing its own roughly $10 billion, 176-turbine farm off the coast of Virginia Beach.
In that case, underwater cables are slated to come ashore at State Military Reservation (formerly Camp Pendleton) and eventually make their way to a Dominion substation near Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake.
Avangrid’s proposal calls for six submarine cables to come ashore up to 85 feet below ground adjacent to Sandbridge’s municipal parking lot behind the Sandbridge Market and then travel alongside other city utilities along the future Nimmo Parkway extension and General Booth Boulevard until connecting to the grid at Corporate Landing.
Avangrid executed an option-to-purchase agreement for land at the business park with the Virginia Beach Development Authority back in 2019.
Megan Higgins, the project director, said the company is choosing to come to Virginia over North Carolina due to the already robust electrical grid in the region.
“The Kitty Hawk Wind project’s goal is to bring clean reliable energy to Virginia,” Higgins said, adding that it will help contribute to the Virginia Clean Economy Act which calls for 5.2 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2034.
The company’s decision to land at Sandbridge was done after consultation with the city of Virginia Beach and studying many options along the coastline.
Much of the land between the Outer Banks and Sandbridge is a part of either the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park.
She said the land in Sandbridge is already disturbed by the parking lot.
“It’s the least impactful to the environment, due to the fact that the work will be conducted underground, outside of the roadway,” Higgins said.
She said the project needs at least two acres to work with and assured residents that construction at the beach area would only take one “off-season” to complete. The agreement with the city would prohibit work between May 15 through October 1.
She said all people would see is a manhole cover in the parking lot once it’s completed.
Skeptics however are aplenty.
“Their project puts our investment at risk,” said Joe Bourne, a Sandbridge resident who helped to spearhead the “Protect Sandbridge Beach Coalition, a group formed to oppose the project. “The proposed construction will have a direct impact on property values, tourism and tax revenues, despite the assurances.”
Others feared there would be health effects due to proximity to the cables.
Higgins pushed back on those claims.
“We have a construction and operations plan for the project that is available right now that details mitigation and any environmental impacts and how we’ve minimized those impacts,” Higgins said.
Construction wouldn’t start at the earliest until 2026. Avangrid hasn’t yet applied for its state permit but Higgins said in total 27 different approvals by federal, state, and local levels are needed for the project.
She said “electrical fields are undetectable” at the surface due to the burring of the cables.
Avangrid isn’t new to the wind energy business. They are a partner in Vineyard Wind One, which will be the first industrial-scale offshore wind farm for the United States off the coast Martha’s Vinyard, Mass. They also were behind the wind farm visible from U.S. 17 near Elizabeth City.
Supporters such as Joel Rubin, a former WAVY-TV anchor turned wind energy advocate for Dominion Energy, said the project will continue to help the region become “the center for clean energy in this country.”
However, one thing left uncertain, is who exactly will use Avangrid’s power.
It’s a question Councilwoman Barbara Henley, who represents Sandbridge, asked of Higgins during the meeting.
“We’re working on that at the moment,” Higgins said as community members in opposition laughed behind her. “We don’t have an offtake agreement finalized.”
Dominion Energy currently has no obligation to buy Avangrid’s power. Higgins said while they are in talks with Dominion, she doesn’t rule out providing power to private corporations such as Meta, Amazon or other tech companies.
“We have to make our decision before we know what those decisions are going to be, and once we make our decision, we’re stuck,” Henley said. “I think we have to have a lot more answers to these questions.
As of Thursday, Mayor Bobby Dyer said no vote on Avangrid’s request has been scheduled.