This week, Virginia-based utility Dominion announced it would partner with Denmark’s Dong Energy to build two offshore wind turbines as test cases for a commercial installation.
Currently, the US has only one 30 MW commercial offshore wind farm at Block Island in Rhode Island. Renewable energy advocates have spent years trying to expand the reach of offshore wind, hoping it would restore the low-cost energy boom that has occurred in the US with onshore wind. The offshore resource is promising: turbines can be built larger at sea so they can generate more power, and wind is generally less variable.
But building offshore wind infrastructure is still expensive; it’s new territory for American contractors. Few utilities have experience managing offshore wind energy. Partnering with Dong Energy will bring some expertise across the pond – the company has built many large offshore wind installations in Europe and has even submitted a subsidy-free bid to German energy regulators for a new installation to go up in 2020.
Named Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project, this new project will consist of just two 6 MW test turbines located 27 miles offshore from Virginia Beach where they cannot be seen from shore. The turbines will be built adjacent to a 112,800-acre site leased by Dominion Energy from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The site is large enough to one day build a 2,000 MW offshore wind installation.
But that is far in the future. Speaking to Ars on the phone, Dominion communications director David Botkins said there is still a lot to do before the utility commits to building that much offshore wind. These first two test turbines, which will not be ready until 2020, will together generate only 12 MW and send electricity back to shore via a 34-kilovolt distribution line. “It has never been done before in the mid-Atlantic in the United States. First we need to get these two turbines built,” Botkins said. “Then we need to take the time to see how they perform” under a regimen that involves exposing them to “potential hurricane-force winds” and studying “marine and water turbines.” impact on life, water flows, et cetera, et cetera.”
The project is not without controversy. In 2016, Dominion reportedly dropped a $40 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant offer, making Governor Terry McAuliffe “unhappy,” according to the Richmond Times Transmission. Botkins told Ars that the cancellation was a purely economic decision. “We had to bid twice because the price in the first round of bidding was much too high to continue. The second round was a little better, but not much,” he said. He added that at the time, he thought the DOE decided to continue funding Block Island.
As a result, the two test turbines, which will be 600 feet high with a rotor diameter of 500 feet, will receive no federal funding. The project would cost $300 million and will be wholly owned by the utility, which will try to recoup costs through rate increases. Botkins told Ars that no rate recovery proposals have yet been made.
Other Atlantic states have made progress with offshore wind projects in recent months. New York signed a deal in January with Deepwater Wind, the company that built the Block Island installation. That project will consist of a 90 MW wind farm located 30 miles southeast of Montauk, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 if all goes well. Massachusetts has also called for 1,600 MW of offshore wind by 2027.