A pair of turbines off the coast of Virginia will provide utility Dominion Energy with experience for a far larger commercial-scale project and help developers around the US unpick regulations and permitting issues they need to comply with to develop offshore wind in federal waters
By the standards of most commercial-scale offshore windfarms, the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project is diminutive. But its significance is huge, because it is the first offshore windfarm in federal waters in the US, and will act as a testbed, not just for a 2-GW windfarm US utility Dominion Energy also plans to build, but projects in federal waters around the US.
From a capacity perspective, CVOW’s pair of 6-MW turbines is of little interest, but the pilot project installation means all of the agencies involved in permitting and approving a project in federal waters are going to have to work closely together for the first time. The offshore wind industry will then figure out how developing windfarms in federal waters works.
“Although the project is a small one, it is very important because the work that needs to be done will pave the way for future, utility-scale projects,” Dominion Energy’s vice president of general construction Mark Mitchell told OWJ. “Because it is a federal project the work will be applicable to all of the waters around the US.
“We expect that the pilot is going to be very valuable to Dominion. It is setting a precedent for commercial-scale projects that the entire industry can also take advantage of as we learn about what will be involved in developing federal projects and how that process differs from other projects to date.
“We are going to learn a lot about all of the important regulations that apply to working in federal waters, about working with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and other agencies. That experience will make a world of difference when we start working in the lease area that sits behind the site for the pilot project.”
Apart from the many state, regional and local agencies with which any project on the US east coast has to work on the regulatory aspects of a project – which in this case includes the Virginia Department of Historical Resources, Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Marine Resources Commission – the federal aspect of the pilot project will require it to work with numerous others. These include BOEM, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Mammal Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Coast Guard and US Fleet Forces, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.
Given the proximity to the project of one of the largest naval bases in the US and areas used by the US Navy for regular exercises and as firing ranges, a significant amount of work has also been done – and will continue to be done – on meeting the national defence needs of the project.
CVOW has been long in gestation. It was previously called the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Assessment Project (VOWTAP). Dominion Energy began work on it in 2011 as part of a Department of Energy grant to develop and test new wind technology that could reduce the cost of offshore wind. A number of achievements were made to advance the project including approval of the research activities plan by BOEM and environmental studies, which included avian and bat surveys, as well as assessments of ocean currents, archaeological conditions and whale migration patterns.
Now that the pilot project is finally underway, Dominion Energy is on a fast track to completing it and using it to obtain all of the data it needs in preparation for a 2.0-GW – possibly larger – project in a 112,000 acre wind energy area the company secured from BOEM several years ago. It is, said Mr Mitchell, a wind energy area with an excellent wind resource and relatively shallow water – around 30 m – that will enable Dominion Energy to take advantage of using tried and tested monopile foundations.
Mr Mitchell told OWJ that both turbines for the pilot project, installed in early July 2019, will be operating by the end of 2020. Dominion Energy plans to obtain around 12 months of data from the pilot, and then press on with constructing the utility-scale project in the wind energy area. He anticipates that the project – which Dominion plans to build in three phases, each of 600-700 MW – will have an initial operating capability as soon as 2024.
By the time the pilot has been up and running that long, he anticipates, the offshore wind energy supply chain on the US east coast will also have evolved to the point at which it will have sufficient critical mass to help reduce the cost of the 2-GW project.
“If you look at recent awards on the US east coast, they will drive the supply chain in just the right timeframe for the project we plan to build,” he said. “At the moment for instance we do not really have any Jones Act installation vessels. I think that will change, and we will also have a growing amount of manufacturing in the US, such as towers.”
In the meantime, Dominion Energy is taking steps to prepare for the commercial-scale project, having brought offshore wind energy leader Ørsted on board to play a key role in the project. “We know about power and electricity,” said Mr Mitchell, “we know all about the onshore piece, but with Ørsted on board we have offshore and marine experience.” The American company recently committed to building 3.0 GW of new solar and wind capacity but is only now gaining experience of offshore wind.
Initial UXO surveys for the pilot project got underway in August 2018 and were completed in October of that year and did not encounter any issues with the fishing community, but as recent developments with other projects on the US east coast have demonstrated, working closely with other users of the sea is essential.
Mr Mitchell said the company had embarked on a “strong and proactive” outreach and consultation programme with the fishing industry and was continuing to work with it to develop best practice for co-ordination during survey, clearance and installation activity.
Onshore work for the pilot project got underway in early July 2019, when Dominion Energy broke ground to install a conduit that will hold the cables connecting the turbines, which will be installed 43 km off the coast of Virginia Beach, to a substation near Camp Pendleton.
Once offshore work gets underway, to minimise environmental impacts to the seabed and aquatic life, observers will be present to look for protected species in the area. If protected species are located within an exclusion zone, work will be stopped.
Ørsted was contracted for the offshore portion of the project and L E Myers Company is undertaking onshore construction work. In December 2018, Seaway Offshore Cables, in combination with Subsea 7, was awarded a contract by Ørsted Wind Power North America to supply and install the array cables for the CVOW project. These are also due to be installed in 2020.
Dominion Energy is keen to highlight that its customers will not see any increase in rates for the pilot project under the provisions of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018, as the cost of the project will be recovered in existing base rates rather than a rider.
The Grid Transformation & Security Act became law in July 2018, declaring offshore wind to be in the public interest. It was passed overwhelmingly by the Virginia General Assembly and the comprehensive energy reform legislation paves the way for a smarter, stronger and greener energy grid.