|The Biden Administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued final approval for the construction of Dominion Energy Virginia’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. Here is the release. A few more review steps remain and should be completed by late January, according to BOEM.
There was no suspense around this, as Dominion has already committed billions of dollars to the project with its ratepayers now paying monthly installments on it. The announcement followed by a few days the arrival of the first set of gigantic monopiles, the first eight of the 176 structures Dominion will build about 27 miles or more off Virginia Beach. Many more will be stored on the Portsmouth waterfront before the final permits are issued.
The tubes are surprisingly similar in size to the hull structures of the Virginia Class nuclear submarines built on the other bank of Hampton Roads at Newport News Shipbuilding, or tubes for traffic tunnels. For many, the sheer size of these planned 15-megawatt turbines may finally become clear.
Coverage of their arrival was provided by The Virginian-Pilot but got little attention outside Hampton Roads. Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) attended and has praised the project all along. The paper provided only an indirect quote from his remarks:
The project is also at the heart of Virginia’s all-of-the-above approach to energy production, which aims to make energy cheap and plentiful by employing fossil fuels, nuclear and growing green energy, said Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who attended the event.
No communication on the event has been issued from the Governor’s Office, which normally chronicles his public events and comments on economically important issues. The Pilot story, worth reading if you can get past the firewall, quotes Dominion CEO Robert Blue extensively on how this project – unlike most others on the East Coast – is still proceeding on time and on budget.
Blue has been repeating those remarks elsewhere now that the BOEM announcement made national news, including the New York Times and CNBC. Dominion’s project, with a claimed energy output of 2,600 megawatts, is the largest single project of all those touted by Biden. The news of its approval drowned out bad news from New Jersey, where energy developer Orsted announced it was backing out of two projects, starting a hissing match with that state’s governor.
In New York, the state is scrambling to issue new requests for proposals on wind projects after contractors there also backed out. The wind developers were seeking higher payments through the regulatory process. Now the higher prices will show up in the next round of contracts instead.
Many East Coast Democratic governors are probably envious of Republican Youngkin, who is likely to have construction well along during his term. But having downplayed his part in the monopile arrival ceremony, his office also put out no public or private announcements about the Oct. 30 BOEM approval. Even so, his strong public support has probably prevented arguments about the wisdom of offshore wind from surfacing in the legislative campaigns. It is an issue in New Jersey.
The figure of $9.8 billion is usually mentioned as the capital cost for Dominion’s European-built turbines and all the added equipment to bring the electricity ashore and connect to the grid. But when the Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the financial investment more than a year ago, the possibility of costs as high as almost $14 billion was recognized in the final order.
Usually forgotten in news coverage is that this project is just the first of two that Dominion plans. Its integrated resource plan and renewable energy compliance plans both call for a second tranche of turbines just as extensive as the first, built a bit further out in the ocean. If indeed Dominion’s first wave has avoided the cost crisis now hitting the industry, nobody is pushing hard on the question of what the second wave might cost.
Official publication of this “record of decision” is the point at which any opponents seeking to challenge BOEM’s decision or related permits have a chance to file a lawsuit. Suits are pending in other states, but the first to reach a decision went against the opponents.
The most common point of attack in the lawsuits is concern over the adequacy and impartiality of the environmental review process. Opponents also raise issues about the impact of the projects on the view of the ocean, both their personal dislike of seeing the wind field and their concerns it will discourage tourism. In some cases, the fishing industry has complained of adverse impacts, but in Dominion’s case a settlement for potential compensation has already been reached with the fishing industry. Those funds will also come from ratepayers.
The potential impact on marine life, especially the truly endangered Atlantic Right Whale, has garnered the most media attention. BOEM and Dominion claim that mitigation efforts built into the construction plan, including the times of year work can or cannot proceed, will provide adequate protections. The whales could not be reached for comment.
Steve Haner is a Senior Fellow at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. He may be reached at [email protected].