The Interior Department on Tuesday approved a plan to install up to 176 giant wind turbines off the coast of Virginia, clearing the way for what would be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm yet.
The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, to be built by Dominion Energy, is the fifth commercial-scale offshore wind project approved by the Biden administration. If completed, the 2.6-gigawatt wind farm would produce enough electricity to power more than 900,000 homes, without creating any of the carbon dioxide emissions that are heating the planet.
The decision comes at a perilous time for the offshore wind industry. To fight climate change, the Biden administration wants to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power in the United States by 2030. But that plan has run into serious trouble lately, as developers have struggled with soaring coasts, rising interest rates, supply chain delays and bursts of local opposition.
While dozens of offshore wind farms are being planned along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, not all of those projects are guaranteed to be built. In Massachusetts, the company behind the Commonwealth Wind project terminated its contracts with state utilities this year, citing unexpected inflation, and said it plans to rebid at higher prices. In New York, the developers of four proposed offshore wind farms recently asked the state for more money before moving forward. New York rejected that request and it’s unclear if the projects will move ahead.
Analysts at BloombergNEF now expect that just 16.4 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity will be completed by 2030, roughly half the Biden administration’s goal.
Yet even amid the turmoil, some projects are inching along. Off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, construction is underway on Vineyard Wind, where 62 wind turbines are expected to be installed this year. In New Jersey, where the Ocean Wind project is facing protests from Jersey Shore residents, the developer recently posted a $100 million bond to guarantee it would finish the wind farm by 2025.
And in Virginia, Dominion Energy recently welcomed the arrival from Germany of eight massive steel foundation posts in preparation for its $9.8 billion coastal wind project, which will be located roughly 27 miles off Virginia Beach. Construction is expected to be completed by 2026.
“The delivery of the first foundations is further evidence that our Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project continues to move forward on time and on budget to provide reliable, affordable and increasingly clean energy to our customers,” Robert Blue, Dominion’s chief executive, said in a recent statement.
The Biden administration’s environmental review found that the Virginia offshore wind project would help reduce local air pollution, but also had the potential to disrupt local fishing areas, wetlands and whale migration routes. As part of the approval process, Dominion agreed to relocate several turbines away from known fish havens, and to compensate local fisheries for any losses they might suffer.
Elsewhere, similar concerns have slowed offshore wind plans. Fishing groups and landowners have filed several lawsuits to halt the Vineyard Wind project in Massachusetts, arguing that the federal government didn’t properly study the consequences the wind farm might have on fisheries or the endangered North American right whale. (One of those lawsuits is being funded by a Texas-based nonprofit that promotes fossil fuels.)
Elizabeth Klein, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore wind reviews, said her agency had consulted with state and local leaders, tribes, ocean users, industry groups and other federal agencies as part of its decision to green-light the Virginia project.
“We look forward to continuing to work together to responsibly develop this clean energy resource and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come,” Ms. Klein said.