By Elizabeth Barminski
The Business Network for Offshore Wind and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter co-hosted the 2018 Virginia Offshore Wind Executive Summit in Norfolk last Friday. Virginia’s offshore wind energy resource is a sleeping giant, ready to awaken and lead the industry in the South.
Following a welcome from Eileen Woll of the Sierra Club, Liz Burdock, President and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, addressed the more than 200 Summit attendees. Burdock put forward a vision for the day and recognized the Summit as a critical and timely meeting for industry. Its significance was underscored by Governor Ralph Northam’s participation.
In his remarks, Governor Northam voiced his strong support for Virginia offshore wind and committed to securing a clean energy future for Virginia. The Governor is looking forward to seeing the US supply chain establish itself in Virginia and lead a build-out of Virginia’s offshore wind resources. This was a clear theme of the Summit: how offshore wind will drive investment in Virginia’s infrastructure, supply chain, and workforce.
To take the lead, the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project positions the state to be the first with turbines in Federal waters. This smaller, two-turbine project will provide experience for the local supply chain, serve as an opportunity for agencies to refine the regulatory process and improve coordination and communication, and demonstrate new technologies.
Offshore wind in the United States is progressing rapidly. Jim Bennett, Renewable Energy Program Manager for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), offered an update on the status of projects along the East Coast. BOEM approved 6 site assessment plans, received 2 construction and operations plans, and expects to have steel in federal waters by 2020.
Other speakers included J.R. Tolbert from Advanced Energy Economy who reflected on the first Virginia offshore wind conference in 2011. He praised the steps the state has been taking to take advantage of this abundant natural resource and emphasized the importance of local content and engagement. Fred Zalcman, Head of Government Relations for Ørsted, reiterated the rapid progression of offshore wind with the realization of the market within the past three years.
Scale is key to grow the US offshore wind industry, and Virginia is one of many states, projects and businesses ‘rushing to scale’ along the East Coast. BVG Associates released a new report highlighting the state’s existing infrastructure and geographical advantages which allow the state to reach its goal of developing 2GW of offshore wind—enough to power 500,000 homes—by 2028. Recently enacted legislation committed the state to 5GW of renewable energy by 2028 with a 2GW carve out for offshore wind.
The state’s assets such as ports, harbors and military presence give it a strategic advantage. Hayes Framme of Ørsted described how the ports and harbors are available for laydown and logistical operations. Noted port expert Jay Borkland from Ramboll further explained how the US can decentralize the supply chain by using smaller specialized ports along the coast rather than searching for an area to construct one mega-port for offshore wind. A major advantage of using ports in Virginia is the unrestricted entry ways, unhindered from bridges or other overhead obstructions. Military activities and operations, specifically the Navy, offer an opportunity for developers and businesses involved in the project to demonstrate the coordinated operation of offshore wind and military without compromising national security.
Along with supply chain expansion comes the expansion, training, and education of the workforce. The offshore wind supply chain is extensive and requires a variety of well-paying local jobs. To structure a skilled workforce, the government, academia and industry need to collaborate to determine the credentials and industry standards necessary for constructing and maintaining offshore wind in the states. By creating jobs in Virginia, the industry can gain even more public support for offshore wind, which can lead to even more legislative support and a more robust offshore wind build-out.
The Summit served as a forum to bring together both established and new stakeholders to push for scale and create a local supply chain. With government and industry representatives dedicated to utilizing existing infrastructure, expanding the supply chain, and structuring the workforce, Virginia is well on its way to laying the groundwork for a successful offshore wind industry.
We are grateful to our speakers and participants who shared their knowledge and expertise during the breakout sessions. We appreciate your dedication and look forward to working collaboratively with you to advance offshore wind in Virginia and throughout the United States.