Virginia Has Hired Its Own Offshore Wind Guru

Andy Geissbuehler

Getting serious about making a Virginia a major player in the offshore wind energy, the Northam administration has engaged international energy consulting firm BVG Associates. BVG Advisory Director Andy Geissbuehler made his first public appearance in a public listening session in Newport News yesterday on the topic of wind development.

“Everyone knows the U.S. will be a massive offshore wind market, and the U.S. will be very fast in picking up and catching up with some of the current market leaders, and will probably develop to one of the No. 1 markets globally,” said Giessbuehler, as reported by the Daily Press.

The idea of making Virginia an East Coast leader in offshore wind and a center of the supply chain supporting an offshore wind sector, has been a prominent goal of Virginia governors since at least the time of Bob McDonnell. But what was once a lofty aspiration for the distant future is becoming an urgent priority. Other East Coast states are promoting offshore wind, and they, too, want to exploit a first-mover advantage to become the operations center for the offshore wind industry. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week:

In Fall River, a former textile hub on the Massachusetts coast, Bristol County economic development director Kenneth Fiola touts waterfront land and a workforce rooted in manufacturing as reasons the city would make a perfect base for the American offshore wind industry.

In Providence, R.I., officials are promoting their port’s experience helping build the country’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island. In Virginia, representatives are selling the advantages of a waterway with no bridges that would ease the transportation of enormous pieces of the building-size wind turbines.

All along the East Coast, politicians and economic development officials are beginning to pitch their communities as potential hubs for the burgeoning U.S. offshore wind industry. Offshore wind developers, which have largely focused on coastal Europe thus far, have plans to build a dozen utility-scale farms off the U.S. side of the Atlantic in coming years, spurring billions in investment and thousands of jobs.

The competition has ratcheted up this year, with leaders in some states, including New York and New Jersey, pushing aggressive wind-energy procurement goals and pledging financial support to develop the necessary infrastructure and workforce.

In Virginia, the big hold-up has been a need to design wind turbines suited to the geological conditions of the seabed off the Virginia coast and capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds. Dominion Energy has proposed building two test turbines offshore as a demonstration project that, hopefully, would prove the viability of a coastal Virginia location. That project has been stalled due to the astronomically high cost per turbine, which the State Corporation Commission could never justify on a cost-per-kilowatt basis alone. But political winds have shifted with the enactment of the Grid Modernization and Security Act of 2018, which declared offshore wind to be in the public interest.

Dominion says that offshore wind could generate as much as 2,000 megawatts of electricity, roughly equivalent in capacity to one-and-a-half modern combined-cycle natural gas plants. Virginia touts its mid-Atlantic location and the presence of an existing ship repair industry as reasons for the wind construction and repair industry to locate in Hampton Roads.

Presumably, Geissbuehler has been hired as an advocate for Virginia’s offshore wind ambitions, although it is not clear from the Daily Press article whether he will be spending most of his time as an economic developer seeking to entice offshore-wind companies to Virginia, as a wind champion to build political and regulatory support within Virginia, or something else entirely.

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18 responses to “Virginia Has Hired Its Own Offshore Wind Guru”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    One big, big hangup is nobody in America has one of these ships specifically built for wind turbines and under the terms of the Jones Act something built in the old US of A is required…

    Good luck getting an exemption to the protectionist Jones Act, and good luck getting our struggling commercial shipbuilding industry to do one of these on spec. Even with the exemption, the existing boats around the world are very, very busy.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      By that do not read in opposition – I’d like to see this industry develop in the US, but remain agnostic on the particular Virginia proposal because I don’t like the distance from shore (too far out.)

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Your discussion of wind turbines on ships is interesting…Most all of the offshore I am familiar with is anchored to the sea floor with permanent cables taking the power to shore. Not sure how cables “work” with these ships.

      but again – if we limit our possible options by letting Dominion take the lead – we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We should have an independent , objective voice that would keep our perspective wide and beyond just what Dominion might prefer.

  2. Of course, the big issue with off-shore wind is that it is much more expensive than on-shore wind. But if you are Dominion, who cares? The more expensive a project is, then greater profits are guaranteed. The Virginia utility structure favors such development, with future electricity cost as the main issue. I’d probably rather see off-shore wind than big new nuclear plants, but I am still hostage to what the State gov’t/Utility monopoly wants to do, versus private industry style open market for lowest cost.

    1. My sense is that Dominion is agnostic about where it gets its electric power — as long as it owns the generating facilities and can generate a return on its investment. The push for wind comes mainly from the environmental community.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Not that black and white. A lot of folks who are not “enviros” want both – a more competitive environment for electricity AND renewables without Dominion being able to derail it or drive the process.

        I don’t blame Dominion – that’s what companies do – to preserve their position in the market – but that’s not what Virginia should be doing on behalf of it’s citizens and electricity consumers.

        A LOT of people beyond enviros want a more diverse, modern , competitive market not just wind for “green” cred.

        Here we are talking about a cockamamie plan for pump-storage in a coal mine – with more interest on the part of Dominion – than offshore wind which they have characterized as “too costly”.. but not a peep about how costly that pump storage might be! Or how about North Anna 3? Dominion still talks that game also but nope wind is “too expensive”!

        That’s just an example of how Dominion chooses to conduct itself on such issues – and it has zilch to do with enviros… advocacies…so we go focus on a tiny group of enviros who are passionate about wind – to “explain” why Dominion has little interest? LORD!

        1. Wind power is cheap, but it still has the problem of being intermittent. When you think of 2,000 megawatts being intermittent, that does create grid stability and reliability issues. You take it for granted that those issues will be solved. But Dominion is the entity that has to solve them. Dominion’s butt is on the line if something goes wrong, not yours.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I don’t think Dominion is the ONLY entity that can solve them. Independent producers as well as PJM can also be viable players.

            I NOTE that many of the non-Dominion solar farms being proposed apparently can locate in many places as long as they are close to existing powerlines and substations… I note that Amazon partnered with a company to build a lot of solar on the Eastern Shore – without any involvement at all of Dominion. That same location could also handle offshore wind -no?

            I just don’t think Dominion is the right “go-to” entity as they have inherent conflicts and are assertive in the GA as well as the SCC to protect THEIR interests which in the case of renewables – they have clearly interfered with the private sector market via their influence in the GA and efforts in the SCC.

            So no – they are not the right entity to take the lead on offshore wind.. and there are other players that would be more objective and less conflicted between their own corporate interests and the public interest.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Perhaps the best place for wind turbines might be off the Eastern Shore where saltwater marshes and clouds of swarming mosquitoes have discouraged the nimbly-inclined seeking homes with waterfront views.

    But that’s not in Dominion’s service area so maybe that explains why Dominion
    has been dragging their feet…

    And perhaps this is the Northam’s way to get a more objective appraisal of the feasibility of offshore wind – since clearly Dominion prioritizing it’s own bottom line over things that not central to their preferred business model.

    I think it is healthy to get other voices involved in the issue to be honest.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    along the lines of what TBILL is saying… perhaps after “consulting” , Virginia would would to put out for bid a PPTA approach to wind turbines and see what kinds proposals it receives… – as opposed to Dominion doing that…and coming
    up with huge costs. Let’s validate that claim with a wholly independent process. That’s a more likely way forward than trying to let Dominion run with the ball… or getting the GA to loosen up Dominion’s monopolistic approach to renewables.

    On our trip west which was maybe 10 years from our earlier trip west – we saw hundreds and hundreds of very large wind turbines in several western and mid-western states – caveating they are not offshore…

    But I’m just not sure at all that we want Dominion taking the lead on solar or wind…. when it often feels like they drag their feet and convince the GA to disadvantage would-be competitors.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Larry, at the shipyard I was involved (just a bit) in the effort to place a 5MW test turbine near Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore, to be put up by the Spanish firm Gamesa. Really wanted that to happen. The on-shore test however was for equipment designed to be off-shore. It fell through when the Spanish decided to spend the bucks (well, Euros) in the Canary Islands instead. NNS remains on the fringe of this, I suspect, so I will comment lightly.

    Competitive bidding on a power source, Larry? What planet are you on? But it will bring us back to TomH’s points about changing the whole model, breaking up the monopoly and allowing a merchant generator to build the wind farm and sell into the grid.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Why not a public-private proposal? Seriously?

    We’ve got ourselves in a bad way here in Virginia because we’re treating Dominion as if they are the sole “GO TO” for anything energy… AND at the same time the GA is actively undermining competition – AND the SCC!

    So in Virginia – most anything energy -including Offshore – all has to be blessed by Dominion or else and I think giving Dominion the lead on offshore wind is like giving GM the power to decide what cars should be sold in the US!

    So heck… make it a request for info…. A request for information (RFI) is a standard business process whose purpose is to collect written information about the capabilities of various suppliers. Normally it follows a format that can be used for comparative purposes.

    If Northam has to do that because the GA is so beholden to Dominion – then it’s a good thing…

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Last August-early September my wife and I were on Oahu. One day we drove east, then north to get to the North Shore. We saw quite a few wind turbines on hills on the north and northeast sides of the island and more anti-wind turbine signs on homes and businesses. I guess a lot of people don’t like the aesthetics. I thought the turbines looked nice but I don’t live there all the time.

    I don’t mind changes in the regulatory model for electricity. But I worry who is representing the consumers. Neither Dominion nor the enviros have the same interests as consumers. And the Attorney General sometimes seems more worried about social issues than economic ones.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    We not only saw lots of wind turbines out west – we saw lots and lots of farms growing wheat and corn and huge grain elevators dotted the same countryside – as well as really gross smelling feed lots for cattle who were being slaughtered by the thousands everyday to provide McDonalds for the NIMBY types who want to live away from all that stuff but still have their food and electricity and blame “enviros” for messing up the landscape!

    Let’s be clear – there are a LOT of people who want cleaner electricity who are not “enviros”. They just want less pollution and to utilize cleaner sources of power such as wind and solar – and they, unlike the NIMBY types who ignore the reality that most all of us are already surrounded already by nuclear plants, coal-powered plants, cell towers, interstate highways, sewage treatment plants.

    Why anyone would selectively pick out wind and solar as particular blights on the landscape – and primarily caused and supported by those pesky enviros is beyond me… Apparently all those other things that blight the landscape are grandfathered in but “green” infrastructure is not?

    Our worlds are filled with various infrastructure that is there to serve our needs – not because enviros want it … all the enviros are supporting is infrastructure that provides for our needs but generates less pollution as opposed to other entities like Dominion that already blight the landscape with power plants that pollute and powerlines and pipelines that dot the landscape.

    Singling Enviros out for the green infrastructure they support and assigning them nefarious profit motives is just … a wacked out view of the world in my view. We all need infrastructure to support our lives. Some of us are okay with that – AND we prefer that such infrastructure not pollute any more than it has to… we just don’t point to less-polluting infrastructure as an enviro conspiracy….

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Well, there are environmentalists and environmentalists. Having spent formative years in So Cal, then coming back to the family’s roots in the Blue Ridge, I could immediately see the contrast on air quality. I’m a huge advocate for air quality and coal-fired power is the top problem, followed by the vehicles (now very clean.) Having lived on the Mojave I am very happy that solar is becoming more cost-efficient, but Virginia is not the Mojave. I am not so committed that I want a power grid that is not reliable, or unreasonably expensive, and unlike some of them I’m comfortable with nuclear. And while I’m happy to see coal plants coming off line, I’m comfortable that the new gas plants are far cleaner and over time will help greatly. Off shore wind can be part of the mix but it is intermittent and too expensive when you go that far off shore.

      Then there are those for whom this is not only a religion, but an apocalyptic jeremiad, and they need to be ignored. If they want to chain themselves to a tree, great, but the pipeline is coming.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        It’s interesting – from an “impact” on the landscape point of view – nukes are pretty serious business and gas fired plants are not pretty and fairly noisy …. also… and of course more than a few rail against overhead powerlines and cell towers so it seems weird that all of these would be “ok” but solar and turbines.. not…

        on the intermittent issue – I’m afraid some of drunk too much of the Dominion tea…. as… it nor the 10 or so RECs have registered any opposition to 3rd party solar hooking up at various locations close to substations.

        I would presume if it is a real problem that Dominion would use it to argue against 3rd party solar in general and we’re not seeing that – and probably because the issue is overblown …. it’s cited often as a “problem” but not once as far as I can tell has Dominion or the RECs come out in opposition to proposed solar sites – saying that it is a problem.

        I guess when I see Dominion and the RECs lobbying against 3rd party solar on that basis – I might take it as a real issue.

        In terms of the “enviros” – the level of demonization from NIMBYs and Conservative-aligned folks is just over the top.

        The vast majority of people want lower pollution and cleaner power… and I’d certainly not classify them as “extreme” wackos…or other things we often hear from opponents.. these days.

  9. Here is an interesting article today in the U.S.Energy News service:

    Basically saying Nevada switching to competitive market on elec, and enviros are fighting because they like the monopoly/political structure which they can influence the state to mandate politcally acceptable elec sources that they like better.

    We have an interesting development where the environmentalists are starting to side with the Dominion’s if they think they have common goals. The enviros should realize they are on the wrong side of the argument when that happens.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    well… the company seems to be doing all the renewable energy stuff that Dominion is not….

    So I see this as principled support of efforts to reduce pollution and encourage conservation and renewables… that’s not supporting a monopolistic company that is NOT pursuing clean energy goals.

    Enviros support clean energy – not monopolies or “choice” – blindly…without regard to whether it results in cleaner energy or not.

    If Dominion did what the Nevada company is doing – I’d bet that the enviros in Virginia would support them the same way…

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