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Virginia Offshore Wind: Opportunity for Ship Repairers

Virginia Offshore Wind Development, by Ronald K. Ritter

Four years ago, when the Governor asked me to be a member of the newly created Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority (VOWDA), I was highly skeptical. After all, I thought, who is going to agree to put hundreds of huge windmills off the coast of Virginia Beach?  But, as I became more aware of the maturity and viability of this technology, I realized that this development was not only possible but, perhaps, integral to the Hampton Roads’ economy.

Let me say at the outset that I am not an environmentalist, scientist, or engineer.  Rather, I think I am a pragmatic businessman concerned about the future viability of the shipbuilding, ship repair and manufacturing industries in Virginia, the thousands of skilled workers who make these industries hum, and by extension the viability of the Hampton Roads’ economy.  My concern is based on the fact that some 45% of the Hampton Roads’ economy is Department of Defense based (and some 80% of that is Navy driven); sequestration’s budget cuts are still in effect for the next eight years beginning in fiscal year 2016; we are losing surface ships home ported in Hampton Roads to Mayport, Florida and Rota, Spain; we could lose an aircraft carrier to the West Coast; etc.  As these reductions in funding and work continue, we must find a replacement to keep our highly skilled and trained work force engaged and our economy on a sound footing.  One realistic and viable solution to this dilemma is offshore wind.

Offshore wind electrical generation is not new technology.  European countries have designed, developed, manufactured and successfully deployed wind systems off their coasts for the past two decades.  A large and growing percentage of Europe’s electrical demand is being met by offshore wind.  The United States, on the other hand, has been slow to embrace this technology.  Currently, no offshore wind turbines are installed in the US.  But, that is about to change with Virginia taking a leading role as a natural front runner for this industry.

 Virginia Offshore Wind Facts:

The designated Virginia Offshore Wind site is located 23-26 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach and comprises some 175 square miles. 

  • This site has been fully vetted by all interested and potentially impacted parties, including the Navy, Air Force, NASA, FAA, Coast Guard, the Port Authority, the City of Virginia Beach, Fish & Wildlife Service, Sierra Club, and many other organizations.  There is no known opposition to the development of this site.
  • In September 2013, Dominion Resources was awarded the lease by the Department of the Interior to develop and operate this site.  The lease includes strict timelines which equate to energy production from the site by 2020.
  • In May 2014, Virginia and Dominion Resources were competitively awarded a $47 million grant to install two test turbines on the western edge of the site to demonstrate the viability of the site and the technology.  These two turbines will be up and running in 2017.
  • The full site will ultimately contain up to 250 turbines each producing some 6 megawatts of power.  It is estimated that offshore wind will provide about 10% of the total Virginia power requirements or enough power to meet the demand of 700,000 households, or all of Hampton Roads’ electrical needs.
  • The electricity will be brought into the shore-based grid through two undersea cables at Camp Pendleton and Fentress.  Little, if any, infrastructure impacts such as eminent domain actions, will be needed.  Other states on the East Coast do not have this advantageous and efficient capability.
  • Each turbine will be approximately 400 feet tall and the blades will each be some 150 feet in length. The turbines will not be visible from the beach. The European experience has shown that these towers and turbines will be capable of withstanding storms including those of hurricane strength.
  • The Port of Hampton Roads is uniquely positioned to be both the production and maintenance hub for offshore wind on the East Coast.
    • The only port with no vertical (bridge) impediments to reaching the Atlantic.
    • Deep water and large pier/lay down area infrastructure.
    • Existing work force in place.
    • Geographically centered to service all East Coast wind farm installations.
  • Initial tests indicate that Virginia has the highest wind utilization factors on the East Coast and the most gradual gradient to deep water on the Continental Shelf.
  • Northern Europe has experienced a 400% increase in regional marine industry employment.  These sustained employment levels of skilled trades are due to both manufacturing of turbines and continued maintenance.
  • The trades needed for the manufacture and maintenance of wind towers and turbines are exactly those in the shipbuilding, ship repair, and manufacturing sectors of our economy.  And, our existing supply chain, supporting these industries, is positioned squarely to support offshore wind.


Virginia Offshore Wind Concerns:

Offshore wind is currently more expensive per kilowatt hour than current methods of electrical generation.  However, as technology continues in this area, costs are coming down.

    • New EPA requirements could greatly increase or make obsolete the use of coal-fired plants.
    • Natural gas is currently cheap but is on the increase as exports take hold.
    • Wind has no environmental impact while other sources do – the cost of this impact narrows the price differential.
  • Other East Coast states also see the economic viability of offshore wind and are making significant investments in this technology.  Competition for production and maintenance of offshore wind farms will be fierce.
  • Virginia’s electric generation industry is regulated unlike other states.  Any rate increase must be approved by the State Corporation Commission.  With wind promising job creation and job preservation within the state, this regulation should be an asset to the development.


Virginia Offshore Wind – The Value Proposition:

Off shore Wind presents a future growth engine for Virginia and Hampton Roads which could significantly offset losses due to reduced Department of Defense work.

  • Formal leases are in place – the installation of offshore wind turbines off Virginia Beach will happen in the near future.
  • The VSRA membership needs to get on board now to ensure our participation in the development, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of offshore wind, not only in Virginia, but throughout the East Coast. 

The offshore wind supply chain organization is:  The Virginia Offshore Wind (VOW) Coalition which can be accessed at http://www.vowcoalition.org

Detailed reports and studies on offshore wind can be accessed at the VOWDA website: