Dominion Energy announced Monday it is partnering with a Danish energy company to build two wind turbines off the Virginia coast, an effort years in the making that the utility said could lead to the development of a much larger wind farm.
DONG Energy will immediately begin design and engineering work on the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, with the two six-megawatt turbines expected to be installed off Virginia Beach by the end of 2020, Dominion said.
The turbines' 12 megawatts of generation is enough to power about 3,000 homes at full capacity, Dominion President and CEO Thomas Farrell II said at a news conference in Portsmouth. If the project is deemed a success, Dominion would move forward with developing an adjacent 112,800-acre site it leased in 2013 from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
That site could eventually generate up to 2,000 megawatts of energy - enough to power half a million homes, the company said.
"Today marks the first step in what I expect to be the deployment of hundreds of wind turbines off Virginia's coast that will further diversify our energy production portfolio, create thousands of jobs, and reduce carbon emissions in the Commonwealth," Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.
Offshore wind energy is a fledgling industry in the U.S., which lags far behind northern European nations. The nation's first offshore wind farm opened off the Rhode Island coast in December, and Dominion said its project would be the second, though Massachusetts, Maryland and New York are among other states also trying to establish a presence in the industry.
Dominion has been working toward an offshore wind pilot program for years and has faced criticism from environmental groups that it was moving too slowly. Last year, it lost a $40 million federal grant for the program because it couldn't guarantee its completion by 2020.
But the company has said high costs meant the project wasn't feasible until now.
"We have been working on this for a very long time, and it has been far from easy," Farrell said. "The technology is complex, the ocean is a very difficult place to work, and the economics are challenging in those conditions."
DONG Energy, which owns 22 offshore wind farms in Europe and Asia, provided the "expertise and cost certainty" Dominion needed to move forward, he said.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $300 million, company spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said. Previous bids were as high as $400 million and were open ended, meaning final costs could have risen, she said.
The turbines will be built 27 miles (43 kilometers) off the coast and will rise about 600 feet (180 meters) above the ocean's surface, roughly the height of the Washington Monument. But Farrell said they won't be visible from shore.
The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter said it was encouraged by the announcement but hoped the pace of the effort would pick up.
"While the commitment to 12 megawatts by 2020 is helpful, the crisis we face with climate change demands that Dominion also engage aggressively on the commercial lease area" said Eileen Levandoski, the chapter's assistant director. She called on the company to make an immediate pledge to work toward hitting the 2,000-megawatt goal by 2030.