Gov. Ralph Northam ceremonially signed legislation this week that sets a path for the eventual approval of two large-scale offshore wind farms that could produce enough electricity to power more than a million homes in the state.
The two proposed projects would be located off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. They’re part of a projected boom in the nation’s nascent offshore wind industry, which is being driven by plummeting construction costs and surging demand for renewable energy.
Northam also touted the state as a likely hub for the industry on the Atlantic coast, citing a workforce and an infrastructure that already support a port and several shipyards.
Northam said the nation’s offshore wind industry could create 14,000 jobs in the state, ranging from people who assemble the turbines to those who ferry them out to sea.
“We are building a new industry that will bring thousands of clean energy jobs to our commonwealth and grow our economy — all while protecting our environment,” the Democratic governor said.
Northam held a signing ceremony in Virginia Beach for offshore-related bills that he originally signed in April. He then toured the first two wind turbines ever erected in U.S. federal waters.
Built 27 miles (about 44 kilometers) off the coast, the soon-to-be-operational turbines are a pilot project. But they’re viewed as a harbinger for hundreds of turbines that are expected to sprout along the Atlantic seaboard, from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
The turbines’ massive blades hung above the calm waters of the Atlantic. Standing higher than the Washington Monument, they competed in scale with the loaded cargo vessels that passed nearby.
Only one offshore wind farm currently operates in the United States, and it’s in the state-controlled waters off Rhode Island. But experts say the industry’s future is in the nation’s federally controlled waters, which typically begin three miles from shore.
Such areas are further out of sight of tourists and out of the way of fishing operations, ports and U.S. Navy bases.
“We have 16 leases from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras,” said Jim Bennett, program manager for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s renewable energy program. “We’re looking at a dozen projects on the East Coast over the next 10 years.”
Among other things, the legislation that Northam signed stated the public benefit of getting wind energy from the proposed projects off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. They are still years away from coming online and will still require various types of federal and state approval along the way.
The project in Virginia is being developed by Dominion Energy, which plans to erect more than 200 wind turbines far off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Dominion also installed the two pilot-project turbines that Northam viewed on Monday. They’re expected to come online later this summer and be able to produce enough electricity at their peak to power 3,000 homes.
Ørsted, a Danish company that is said to be the largest offshore wind developer in the world, is serving as the construction lead on the pilot project.
“It’s rare to find an industry that is fully mature in other parts of the world but in its infancy in the U.S.,” said Hayes Framme, a government relations and communications manager for Ørsted. “It has tremendous potential from a clean energy standpoint but also from an economic standpoint.”