Offshore wind has the potential to provide the largest, scalable renewable resource for Virginia if it can be achieved at reasonable cost to customers.
While considerable research has been completed and much knowledge gained on off-shore wind placement in hurricane prone regions as part of the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project (VOWTAP), a couple of setbacks are causing Dominion and the other partners in the project to look at other possible paths forward.
VOWTAP is working to develop a two-turbine, 12-megawatt demonstration project about 24 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.
VOWTAP's other partners are Alstom Power Inc., (recently acquired by General Electric Company), a wind turbine manufacturer that will supply the turbines; KBR, a global engineering, construction, and services firm with experience in offshore wind; Keystone Engineering, the designer of the innovative substructure; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center; Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries; and the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute, representing the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium.
Dominion plans to consult with other members of the project team, as well as participants in a stakeholder group of government, research and community representatives, before deciding on next steps.
Among the setbacks were the Department of Energy withdrawing $40 million in funding the project had been awarded. 1n 2012, VOWTAP was one of seven projects to receive a $4 million DOE award. In 2014, DOE awarded the project up to an additional $47 million to help fund the construction. Through 2016 about $10 million had been received by the project.
DOE made its decision after Dominion could not guarantee an in-service date for the project earlier than 2020.
While the VOWTAP partners had been working toward an earlier date, there were too many uncertainties to meet DOE’s request. These include the high cost of the project, the inability to get firm construction contracts, and the increasing complexities of gaining regulatory approval for energy infrastructure projects.
Current bids for constructing the project range from about $300 million to $380 million, compared with an initial estimate of about $230 million.
The primary VOWTAP objectives are:
- To design, develop, and demonstrate a state-of-the art grid-connected 12 megawatt (mw) offshore wind research facility off the coast of Virginia.
- Employ technology innovations and research that will inform and benefit future commercial scale offshore wind developments in the United States.
- Develop technologies and process solutions that will contribute to establishing offshore wind as a cost-effective renewable energy solution for the United States.
The VOWTAP Team
The Dominion VOWTAP team includes:
Maps and Charts
DOE expects project commissioning to occur between 2017 and 2018. Dominion anticipates meeting DOE’s required timeframe, while also allowing for all environmental permitting to be completed, and the Virginia SCC's regulatory review to occur. When Dominion submits an application to the SCC, the total project costs including contracting considerations will be finalized and provided as part of the review process.
- DOE selection of VOWTAP for 50% Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED)
- DOE down-selection of up to three projects nationwide to proceed with 100% FEED and construction
- Begin construction
Permits, Approvals and Consultations
Research Activities Plan
A Research Activities Plan was submitted by the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to BOEM on Feb. 21, 2014 for the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Assessment Project (VOWTAP). The plan details the VOWTAP proposed location and schedule and includes resource and assessment information and data collected to date in support of the planned design, construction, installation operation and maintenance of two 6MW turbines offshore Virginia. The plan also provides information related to the installation of approximately 27 nautical miles of submarine transmission cable as well as other ancillary facilities and improvements to terrestrial substations required to support the VOWTAP project.
Dominion reviewed potential points of interconnection and identified several alternatives that are viable. Camp Pendleton has been identified as the preferred interconnection point; however, other alternatives were considered.
All lines coming onshore will be underground.
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 has received 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 minimize potential impacts to the environment to the extent possible, including potential effects on marine mammals, sea turtles, and other aquatic life.
Visual Assessment of Turbines
Potential visual impacts of the proposed turbines were a major consideration when identifying the offshore research lease location (i.e., Section 238 Research Lease Area). The offshore lease area is approximately 27 miles (~24 nautical miles) offshore, and both curvature of the earth and light refraction 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. The 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did Dominion choose to participate in this Department of Energy research project?
The project presents a unique opportunity to partner with world-class firms to leverage innovations in all aspects of offshore wind design and fabrication, installation, operations and maintenance. Dominion is committed to pursuing cost reduction activities to make commercial-scale offshore wind generating stations more economical.
Is this project connected to the lease auction that Dominion won?
This project is not directly connected to the commercial lease that BOEM awarded to Dominion in September 2013. The goal of this 12-megawatt research and development project is to identify ways technology advancements can lower the cost of future commercial-scale projects. This project will bring valuable information that can be transferred to future large-scale projects. Experience in permitting, design, installation and operations will be directly applicable to commercial scale development.
How many jobs will this produce?
While the total number of jobs this project will create has not yet been determined, we believe several hundred direct and indirect jobs will be created by the 12-megawatt offshore wind demonstration project. As part of its SCC approval process, Dominion will conduct an economic impact study to determine economic benefits to the area.
Will the wind turbines withstand a major hurricane?
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.
How can I ask questions or get my company involved in the VOWTAP project?
You can call 1-855-790-4035 or email VOWTAP@dom.com to provide information about your company’s services, and/or interest in the project. (This is not associated with Dominion Virginia Power customer service. For customer service assistance, call 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357).