New England blows by the South with offshore wind development

With a wind farm nearing completion off Rhode Island, the U.S. is finally moving toward developing offshore wind projects, but the Southeast is in danger of missing the boat. (© Deepwater Wind)

This week, the governor of Massachusetts signed into law a widely supported clean energy bill that includes the nation’s most ambitious commitment yet to offshore wind power. Meanwhile in neighboring Rhode Island, work crews for Deepwater Wind are entering the final stages of  construction of our country’s first offshore wind farm, a five-turbine, 30-megawatt project in the waters off Block Island. It’s on schedule for completion this fall.

Although the United States has been slow to adopt this clean and renewable energy source, offshore wind development is finally kicking into high gear in New England. Here in the South, however, it remains stuck in neutral.

Because of its sluggish start, Dominion Virginia Power recently lost $40 million in federal grant money for the first offshore wind venture in our region. Intended to test the feasibility of a wind farm with potentially hundreds of turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach, the two-turbine demonstration project was originally scheduled for completion in 2017. Dominion put it on hold last year when bids came in too high. A new round of bids put the costs more in reach, but the company balked again. When Dominion would not commit to finishing the project by 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy withdrew its funding.

This latest setback dims the prospects for developing a nearly 113,000-acre wind energy area that Dominion secured in a federal lease sale three years ago, the first to be held in the Southeast. If fully built out, it could produce enough electricity to power an estimated 700,000 homes. It would also be a huge job creator for Virginia’s Hampton Roads area, which holds the promise of becoming a major hub of offshore wind development in the Atlantic.

As other states on the Eastern Seaboard prepare to tap the power- and job-generating potential of the persistent winds off their coasts, Virginia and the Southeast are in danger of being left behind. Virginians across the Commonwealth should call on the Governor and Dominion to restart the state effort to capture this clean and zero-fuel cost energy source.

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