by Delegates Paul Krizek and Mark Sickles
What can we do in Virginia to reduce greenhouse gasses and slow the warming of the planet? Imagine almost two hundred structures each one third taller than the Washington Monument so far from shore that you can only see them on a clear day with binoculars, and in water over a hundred feet deep, using the strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean to create enough energy to power as many homes as we have here in Fairfax County plus another 220,000 homes! This will soon become reality because the General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) in 2020 under Democratic leadership. The current initiative may be only the beginning as there are six more off-shore wind farm sites under review. It won’t be long before wind is one of the biggest producers of energy in the Commonwealth, and Hampton Roads could be the clean energy hub for the East Coast.
The two of us, your Mount Vernon and Franconia area Delegates, are committed to this major transition to renewable energy. The VCEA requires Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Electric Power to completely transition from carbon-emitting carbon fuels to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2045 and 2050, respectively.
Furthermore, in separate legislation, Virginia became a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”), the first southern state to join. RGGI sets a carbon emissions cap for power companies and charges them for the carbon they emit. The revenue collected is used to address climate change through low-income energy efficiency programs and flood protection efforts, which are especially critical considering the recent horrific floods in Buchanan County in the far southwest of Virginia. These recent General Assembly initiatives are major drivers for the transition to cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Though Governor Youngkin has threatened to leave RGGI, he has not identified an alternative source of funds to undertake these climate change mitigation investments. His recent anti-RGGI executive order is a statement of intent—he cannot act to dismantle the effort without legislation.
In addition to Dominion’s plan to reach carbon neutrality in Virginia by 2045, the energy company has promised to reach net-zero carbon and methane emissions in all sixteen states it serves by 2050, meaning that much of it will be accomplished far sooner, which is essential to our survival due to the destruction wrought by climate change.
Currently, there are two smaller test-pilot wind turbines in place which consistently have surpassed capacity factor expectations and can serve up to 3,000 homes at peak. Each turbine’s height is 620 feet. The rest of the upcoming project includes 176 wind turbines in about a 113,000-acre matrix, located 27 miles east off the shore of Virginia Beach, far past where almost all birds fly and way beyond the view shed from Virginia Beach. The matrix location is cost effective and avoids blocking major sea vessel routes, and minimizes damage to the turbines and the environment through lessons learned with Europe’s robust off-shore program – an approach to protecting all the aquatic species and essential fish habitat – and by halting all work on the construction for five months to avoid interference with the migration of right whales. The turbine infrastructure will power up to 660,000 homes after completion providing power to almost 25% of homes Dominion serves in Virginia. Dominion expects to receive approval for the project from the Virginia State Corporation Commission this month and finish construction by the end of 2026. The turbines are expected to have a 30-year life span, but with major advancements being made in the renewable energy field, the turbines will likely live for far longer.
Dominion is partnering with experienced companies to complete construction of the project as it makes this huge commitment toward renewable energy. An in-depth study of the Hampton Roads region took place and included holding various community meetings to gauge feedback for the project. The study found that the only sea life impacted by the construction are conch and black sea bass and they have already coordinated with commercial fishery stakeholders and environmental groups to address any issues that might occur. Once constructed, the wind turbines will be tethered underground to offshore substations. The offshore substation will then connect to an onshore switching station which will transition cables above ground to connect to an onshore substation which delivers the electricity to the grid.
In addition to the tremendously positive impact on the environment, the project will also provide major benefits to the Virginia economy. During its construction, these windmills will create around 900 good jobs annually, many of which will be important union jobs, which will provide around $143 million in economic output; and, during operation, the project then will provide 1,100 jobs and $210 million in economic output each year. VCEA requires Dominion Energy to prioritize hiring veterans, historically disenfranchised people, and Virginia residents for this historic initiative. The act kickstarts our clean energy future by eliminating nearly five million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, powering nearly 25% of our homes, and providing substantial job opportunities that will flow through the economy.
If you would like to learn more about the project, visit https://coastalvawind.com/.