Dominion is actively developing large-scale commercial offshore wind generation, and is fully committed to this initiative. Offshore wind has the potential to provide the largest, scalable renewable resource for Virginia if it can be achieved at reasonable cost to customers. Dominion will proceed with development/assessment of the commercial wind energy area while advancing another wind research and development project, looking for ways to lower the cost of bringing offshore wind generation to customers.
Federal Lease Acquired
The federal government controls offshore wind areas greater than 3 miles from the coast, and the administration in late November 2012 announced that all 112,800 acres of federal leases off the Virginia coast would be put up for a single-bid auction in 2013. Dominion Virginia Power subsequently bid $1.6 million on Sept. 4, 2013, to win the lease for 112,800 acres to develop an offshore wind turbine farm capable of generating up to 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 500,000 homes. (> View our news release and a statement from Gov. Bob McDonnell.)
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) conducted the auction. Dominion will now proceed with the BOEM timetable (see "Timetable" below) for development of the commercial wind energy area while advancing its research proposal in parallel and looking for ways to lower the cost of bringing offshore wind generation to customers.
Dominion officially signing the lease with BOEM on Oct. 11, 2013, for the development of offshore wind. (> View a video.) Dominion expects the first turbine could be installed in about 10 years pending project approval by applicable regulators.
Offshore wind has several advantages. It is carbon free, has no fuel costs, and can produce significant amounts of electricity--when the wind is blowing. Virginia has been blessed with many natural resources, and robust offshore wind potential is one of these resources. Our state's offshore wind capacity, world-class ports, strong manufacturing base, and location in the middle of the East Coast give Virginia important advantages in attracting the supply chain for offshore wind and bring the economic benefits to the Commonwealth. Any construction for the Commercial project would be contingent upon obtaining applicable regulatory approval(s).
Birds and Bird Communities
Siting the project more than 27 miles (~24 nautical miles) offshore is expected to reduce potential impacts to birds, since most species stay relatively close to shore. Dominion is currently conducting monthly avian/bird surveys for one year as part of the VOWTAP. The survey results to date show low bird activity in the project area.
Dominion will apply for and receive a number of Federal, state, and local permits and approvals for the project, and will be required to comply with several Federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act, Historic Preservation Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act. The project will be designed and operated to avoid potential impacts to the environment to the extent possible, including potential effects on marine mammals, sea turtles, and other aquatic life.
The offshore lease area begins approximately 27 miles (~24 nautical miles) offshore, and both curvature of the earth and light refraction would significantly limit the visibility of turbines from shore.
The Effects of the Curvature of the Earth and Atmospheric Refraction on the Apparent Height of Objects
Due to the curvature of the earth’s surface, objects viewed on the horizon are not seen in their entirety because they begin to fall below the visible horizon. As the distance from the viewing location to the object continues to increase, less of the object will be visible. Because of this, height corrections must be made to the visual simulations to account for the earth’s curvature. In addition, our line of sight curves downward at large distances because of the refraction of light in the Earth’s atmosphere. This effectively lessens the impact of the earth’s curvature on the relative height of an object, as shown in the figure below.
The commercial wind energy area was identified through an intergovernmental task force created by BOEM in 2009. The area was selected after extensive collaboration between the Commonwealth and stakeholders to avoid existing uses of the OCS offshore Virginia, including ecological habitats, military training areas, marine vessel traffic, dredge disposal sites, and other areas of concern. This project will conduct its own detailed navigational risk assessment as part of the development activities.
An offshore wind project has yet to be built in an area subject to hurricanes. Part of the VOWTAP project is establishing the appropriate design standards to ensure that a project located in a hurricane-prone region can withstand such conditions. In addition, turbine suppliers are evaluating and considering hurricane conditions in their designs.
Currently, offshore wind is significantly more expensive than traditional fossil fuel generation sources. The DOE’s Energy Information Administration estimates that commercial offshore wind will cost more than 22 cents per kWh. The VOWTAP will help inform ways technology will help reduce the cost of a future offshore wind commercial project. It is too early in the development stage to estimate, with confidence, the installed or total cost of commercial-scale offshore wind.