Posted October 13, 2020
Dominion Energy’s two massive wind turbines loom large off of Virginia Beach’s coast.
You can’t see them from the Oceanfront, but at more than 600 feet tall, they would eclipse the state’s tallest building, the 508-feet Westin Virginia Beach Town Center. Together, those two turbines, churning along with three 253-foot blades apiece, represent a key step toward Virginia’s carbon-neutral future.
And the groundbreaking pair — at about 27 miles off the coast, they’re the first turbines in federal waters — is just the tip of the iceberg.
In 2026, Dominion officials say, the pair of research turbines will have grown by another 220, with an underwater cable transporting enough energy to land to power some 660,000 homes. Dominion says it will become the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.
On a Thursday morning trip out to see the turbines — which will begin regularly feeding electricity into Dominion’s system this November — it’s clear the ambitious $8 billion project has gained some serious momentum.
Onboard the Atlantic Explorer were a few dozen key stakeholders, including officials from Dominion and Old Dominion University, as well as local leaders such as Doug Smith, the CEO of the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance.
That boat is typically used for 90-minute sightseeing tours, where the main attraction are bottlenose dolphins. The main sight for Thursday’s trip, though, was harder to miss.
Starting from the Virginia Aquarium, the two turbines were visible about 45 minutes into the boat trip, first appearing as small toothpicks on the horizon.
Up close, the pair shoot out of the choppy blue water like gigantic beanstalks. They rest on a base that’s bright yellow, but the turbines are mostly pure white, save for a red accent at the top.
As the boat circled the turbines — with the enormous blades steadily rotating — officials stood on the right side of the boat to get as close as possible. Some snapped pictures of their own. For some, it was their first time seeing the massive turbines in person.
Onboard, ODU’s experts and leaders discussed a 200-person task force that will help lead the “megaproject” to the finish line. The university has already won nearly $2 million in external funds for new research as well as a $775,000 grant to study how to lesson any impact on military training, readiness and research.
“I’m very bullish that we’re going to get some more (funding),” said Paul Olsen, the executive director for ODU’s programs and partnerships office of research.
He likened the scope — and impact — of this eventual 2.6-gigawatt project to the dredging of the Port of Virginia to make it the deepest port in the U.S. East Coast, which he also helped lead with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Max Bartholomew, Dominion Energy’s Eastern Region policy director, has been with the company for roughly 50 years and called this project his “crown jewel.”
“For Dominion to be a part of it, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Officials have said this is Hampton Roads' best chance to become a hub for the growing offshore wind industry.
Around 2024, when Dominion expects construction on the roughly 200 additional turbines to start, Olsen said “it’s going to get extremely busy” off of Virginia Beach’s coast. He said the work will bring about 3,600 jobs during the construction, and a few hundred in the long term.
And the lessons learned from these first pair of 6-megawatt wind turbines, already producing some energy during testing, will inform the rest of the project. The cost for the first two turbines was about $300 million and Dominion has been working on setting them up for about two years.
There are still permits and plenty of steps to hit, said Lloyd Eley, manager of project construction. But he said they feel confident moving forward, especially with the lessons learned from the first two.
“There are some risks, but we feel like we’re in a place to mitigate that,” he said.
Peter Coutu, 757-222-5124, email@example.com