Siemens Gamesa chooses Virginia for offshore wind turbine blade factory

Virginia’s effort to become an East Coast hub for industry bears fruit

By: - October 25, 2021 10:18 am

One of two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach that comprise Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project. The Virginia Attorney General’s Office is criticizing the massive cost estimates of a larger planned wind development in the same area. (Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)

PORTSMOUTH —  Siemens Gamesa announced Monday that it plans to build the United States’ first offshore wind turbine blade facility at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, notching a major win for Virginia as it strives to become a hub for the nation’s fledgling offshore wind energy industry

“Today’s announcement will help position Hampton Roads as the offshore wind development hub for the nation,” said Bob Blue, CEO, chairman and president of Dominion Energy, which plans to use turbines supplied by Siemens Gamesa for its 2.6 gigawatt Virginia Coastal Offshore Wind project being developed 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. 

A 12 megawatt pilot constructed by Dominion became the nation’s first offshore wind installation in federal waters and began delivering energy to customers in January 2021. 

“Just as Pittsburgh became synonymous with America’s steel industry in an earlier era and Silicon Valley is synonymous with advanced technology today, Hampton Roads could become synonymous not only with the maritime industry but with offshore wind,” said Blue. 

The Spanish-German wind engineering company said it plans to invest more than $200 million in the Portsmouth Marine Terminal facility, which will produce blades for offshore wind projects throughout North America. When fully operational, the facility will be capable of producing blades for 100 turbines annually and is expected to create over 300 jobs.

In Virginia, lawmakers have sold offshore wind as a major job creator. The state has set an aggressive goal under the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act of developing 5.2 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2034. Dominion’s CVOW project, which would produce half of that power, is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management. 

“We did not get here by accident,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday. “We have planned and worked hard to lay the foundations for offshore wind and position Virginia as the leader.” 

Among the inducements Virginia offered Siemens Gamesa to locate their facility in Portsmouth are $17.1 million in Virginia Public Building Authority bonds to fund infrastructure improvements and site work for the facility as well as recruitment and training support through the state’s Virginia Talent Accelerator Program. 

Steve Dayney, Siemens Gamesa’s head of offshore wind for North America, said the company had chosen Virginia not only because of its existing relationship with Dominion but also because of “the suitability of the site,” including its deepwater port, lack of overhead bridges and wide open space at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal. 

The Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Portsmouth, Va., where Siemens Gamesa plans to build an offshore wind turbine blade facility. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

Offshore wind is increasingly becoming a critical component of both electric power producers’ plans to transition away from fossil fuels and state and federal aspirations to develop renewable energy that can replace coal and natural gas while driving economic growth. 

“We have a moral responsibility to reduce emissions,” said Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, Monday in Portsmouth.

However, while the technology has been widely deployed throughout Europe and Asia, the U.S. has been slow to adopt it and currently lacks the supply chain to manufacture and install turbines. Earlier this year, major manufacturers including Siemens Gamesa told Reuters that they would need to see a reliable pipeline of projects moving forward in the U.S. before putting down roots stateside. 

On Monday, Dayney reiterated that for Siemens Gamesa, “what is important is there is long-term certainty for the investment of  hundreds of millions of dollars” in offshore wind. 

Shipping turbine components across the Atlantic for U.S. projects has also been dogged by special challenges. 

Under the federal Jones Act, any vessel carrying goods between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Despite that restriction, no such vessels with the capacity to transport turbine components currently exist in the U.S. Dominion is building the first Jones Act-compliant offshore wind installation ship in Texas, which has been christened Charybdis after a sea monster in “The Odyssey” and is expected to be completed by late 2023 and docked in Portsmouth. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speak with press at an announcement on Oct. 25, 2021, that Siemens Gamesa will build an offshore wind turbine blade facility in Portsmouth. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

President Joseph Biden’s administration has sought to jumpstart industry growth, laying out an ambitious plan to develop offshore wind along much of the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf of Mexico. In March, the administration set a target of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. 

“We have been lagging Europe in the establishment of offshore wind, but by adding wind capacity we’re going to diversify our energy supply and decarbonize our existing fossil fuel base,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm Monday in Portsmouth. 

Granholm also took the opportunity to boost Biden’s Build Back Better plan, emphasizing the potential of the offshore wind industry to create jobs. 

“You’re going to need engineers and construction workers to get the turbines up,” she said. “You’re going to need turbine technicians and support staff to keep them running. You’re going to need line workers to connect the projects to the transmission grid, and many, many more.”

This breaking news article has been updated.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.