The Bulletin

Study examines how Southwest Va. can be part of offshore wind supply chain

By: - December 14, 2021 5:43 pm

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)

A Southwest Virginia public-private partnership is launching a study to see how the historically coal-dependent region can become part of the supply chain for the offshore wind industry as it takes root in Hampton Roads and up and down the East Coast. 

“This is one of those rare moments when you have a new market opportunity, and why should we sit on the sidelines because we’re on the opposite side of the state here?” said Will Payne, director of InvestSWVA, the initiative spearheading the study. 

The study, christened Project Veer, will be carried out with energy consulting firm Xodus, which also conducted a detailed 142-page supply chain analysis for the Hampton Roads Alliance. 

In total, Project Veer is expected to cost $92,500. More than half of that, $49,750, will be funded by a grant from the regional arm of GO Virginia, a state economic development program. The remainder will come from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and Payne’s consultancy, Coalfield Strategies. 

The study will examine how local equipment manufacturers, developers and service providers can fit into the burgeoning wind energy industry, and particularly offshore wind. Payne said it would also focus on transportation infrastructure — “Rail is going to be key,” he said — and workforce availability. 

Can Southwest Virginia remake itself as a laboratory for renewables?

“Don’t think just because you’re not on the coast there’s not an opportunity,” Xodus Head of Strategy and Market Development Jeff Tingley told the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority Tuesday. “I’ve talked to the major wind turbine manufacturers, foundation manufacturers, et cetera, and they are very open to looking across a whole state.” 

President Joseph Biden has set a target for U.S. offshore wind development of 30 gigawatts by 2030, which government estimates say will result in $12 billion of capital spending annually and more than 44,000 direct industry jobs.

Virginia, like many other East Coast states, has been racing to develop those wind resources. The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act requires the state’s power grid to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 and sets a goal of developing 5.2 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2034. Dominion Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, already has plans underway to build the 2,600 megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project off the coast of Virginia Beach. 

The state’s push has reaped some immediate results. This October, Spanish-German wind manufacturer Siemens Gamesa chose the Portsmouth Marine Terminal as the location for the United States’ first turbine blade facility. 

However, Payne said, “the supply chain won’t be exclusive to Hampton Roads, and there are likely components that our manufacturers could make.”

Large industrial mining operations “understand the scale of the kind of components we’re talking about for on- or offshore wind turbines,” he added. “I don’t think they will shy away from doing something big.” 

Project Veer’s timeline calls for the study to be finalized by the end of March. Partners include the Hampton Roads Alliance, Dominion and Appalachian Power.

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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.