Virginia Joins the Wind Power Club

Photo credit: Associated Press

Well, well, Virginia finally has an offshore wind turbine industry. The last 253-foot blade was attached Friday to a turbine and pylon off Virginia Beach. At a cost of $300 million, the two turbines owned by Dominion Energy will provide some of the world’s most expensive electricity, but they¬† do pave the way for a $8 billion, 180-turbine wind farm that Dominion plans to build next. The wind farm, endorsed by Virginia’s major environmental groups, will be free of CO2 emissions. It will also generate the highest-cost electricity in Dominion’s energy portfolio. Governor Ralph Northam hopes the wind farm will stimulate development of a cluster of major wind-power fabricators and service companies in Hampton Roads. We’ll see how that works out. Early indicators could be better: The two towers were assembled in Nova Scotia and transported to Virginia on a special ship.

— JAB

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35 responses to “Virginia Joins the Wind Power Club

  1. Will the SELC and Sierra Club protest the air and waste permits the fabricators may need in Hampton Roads?
    The plan is to locate them in Portsmouth… which is an environmental justice community.
    I wonder how the Governor’s own environmental justice council will treat the industrial growth in a community of color.

  2. “Governor Ralph Northam hopes the wind farm will stimulate development of a cluster of major wind-power fabricators and service companies in Hampton Roads.”

    Remember when Obama wanted to make solar panels in Silicon Valley? Or when McAuliffe tried to make golf carts in Mississippi?

    Follow the money. Whose palms are getting greased by the “wind-power fabricator” in Hampton Roads theory?

    Remember when Virginia was going to have the only east coast port deep enough to accomodate Panamax ships? Whatever happened to that bonanza?

    Wise King Ralph should focus on public health edicts and leave the deep business thinking to others.

  3. I think if someone comes along and puts up 100 more wind turbines down that way – he/she will become the Bill Gates or Zuckerberg of Wind in Virginia!

    I’m not quite sure why they are so danged expensive but the claim is that they’re gonna be uber-cheap at some point…who knows…. the company doing them has put up a crap-load of them in Europe, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway etc.

    I will say this – if these things are so great – why do we still have 10,000 inhabited islands still powered by diesel at 40-50 cents per KWH?

    • It’s the cable that’s so expensive when it’s only spread across 2 turbines, plus a lack of specialized equipment like the jack-up barge seen in the picture causes such a massive investment for so little capacity. Farms in Europe, which are very large, are producing electricity roughly around $.05/kWh.

      Island offshore wind power is an issue for the same reason: the cable costs is so relatively high because of the small about of capacity being installed.

      • well.. if it’s one cable coming ashore that then needs a bunch of turbines hooked up to be cost-effective… but for islands also?

        You’d think that SOME islands these towers could be on the island itself or not that far offshore… and take places that are not island – like North Canada where the tower could be nearby. They all use diesel generators…because even though they are not islands and Canada has hydro out the wazoo – they still have all these coastal towns that are powered by diesel.

  4. I would be interested if anyone is aware of studies of the economic costs of wind power (full life-cycle costs, including those related to dismantling) The obvious big cost is initial construction, but which is now somewhat offset by low interest rates. I have no idea of variable costs for maintenance and labor, but on the plus side there is no on-going fuel costs such as fossil fuel plants. There is no question that there will be no one answer for all size wind farms, but there should be a common formula that would input all the variables. The result should be data that could be used to estimate, among other things, the cost of each ton of carbon dioxide saved. This could be then compared to all other clean energy methods, including preservation of forests and other vegetation. Simply deciding to make public policy without these types of calculations could and probably will lead to decisions based on politics as usual and do nothing for the environment beyond letting some people feel good that they have done “something”.

    • I doubt seriously that including the costs of the new materials for turbines as well as the dismantling costs is much different than other forms of power, coal, nukes, even gas.

      Coal and Nukes both have tremendous external costs. Land that is mined never really recovers even when it is “reclaimed”… it barely grows grass and it still has acid runoff. Nukes have their own problem also both up-front and dismantle.

      And we mostly ignore the clear-cut corridors for gas pipelines – millions of acres of land that no longer can have trees growing.

      I think we’d have to have a fairly detailed study to really account for these costs.

    • When you say “wind” keep in mind East Coast offshore wind is a whole new ball game, and ultra expensive compared to onshore wind.

  5. Many if not most of the criticisms leveled at the natural gas plant in yesterday’s monster comment string apply far, far better to this boondoggle. But this temple to stupidity is immune to analysis. TomH was so, so concerned about the lack of a plan to dismantle that plant, if needed. This sucker won’t last near as long as a natural gas plant, and we ratepaters will be stuck with all those costs far sooner. (Ratepayers won’t cover those costs for the merchant gas plant.)

    Nobody has written more or more critically about this than I have. I may return to it at some point. Virginia is getting the energy mix its political leaders want. Plan to pay big (just switched to gas hot water, myself, and just have a few more LED’s to install….) At least the Washington Post headline on this today noted “They won’t come cheap.”

    It will be wonderful if the storm that wrecks it will be Hurricane Ralph or Terrence or better yet Tom (for Farrell.)

    • The North Sea is famous for terrible storms.. but it’s also where a lot of these turbines have gone up.

      I’m a little skeptical that they’re not designed to handle them.

      Lots of infrastructure is – the bay-bridge tunnel, those ocean oil rigs, what not the turbines? we do them on the cheap instead?

      naw………

    • It’s a toss up. CO2 from natural gas, or vortex-induced tornadoes from windmills. Oh wait, that last one doesn’t happen.

  6. US power grid — innovator’s dilemma in action

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    That is one cool looking ship in the photograph. Never seen anything like it. A huge crane like the kind you see in Baltimore and a ship that has stilts. I cannot imagine the cost of the rental fee for such a one of a kind creation.

  8. Saw an article last week: Virginia vying to become the new “Houston” of offshore wind.

    Saw another article last week: New Jersey vying to become the new “Houston” of offshore wind.

    I have lived in both states and they are both characterized by legislatures that aggressively view the utilities as the state’s way to create a better economy. When I lived in NJ, it was an earlier era: they were mandating all future power plants would be coal-powered (NJ elected officials hated natural gas because that was displacing utility/coal plants).

    So my entire adult life is non-happiness with the state/utility process. But I’d rather do some offshore wind than coal and probably nuclear.

  9. I have always thought that using experienced offshore wind developers as merchant generators is the best way to develop Virginia’s offshore wind resource. That produces the lowest cost. All other Atlantic Coast states are doing it that way. Electricity should be produced at about 5-6 cents per kWh according to recent bids. Developers would be responsible for all risks of cost overruns, storm damage, etc., not the ratepayers.

    However, Dominion controlled the lease, which foreclosed other options. And we passed a law that gave Dominion primary control over the roll-out of large-scale renewables for the next 30 years. That and the fact much of the legislation cuts the SCC out of the “is it prudent” consideration will keep our energy costs rising steadily over the next several decades.

    There are many advantages with new energy technologies. We just have to put them to use in the right way.

    And Steve is right, I do believe that decommissioning and cleanup costs should be part of the authorization for merchant generator projects. Since the ratepayers pay for it, it is usually not a problem for utility projects. Although, the VNG pipeline proposal did not include decommissioning at the end of the project.

    • Does the ACP account for decommissioning costs?

      How about Surry and North Anna and Chesterfield and Bremo Bluff?

    • 5-6 cents is extremely low cost quote for off-shore wind of the nature we are talking about. I do not see anything near that cost being achievable in reality, inclusive of all costs. Agreed Dominion monopoly cost is likely much higher than competitive market.

      • There are different charts – and disagreement but this is one that shows the costs:

        ?w=705&h=&zoom=2

      • I am basing that on contracts that offshore wind developers are willing to sign for delivery by a specified date.

        Giving Dominion a guaranteed profit plus potential profit from the sale of energy greatly increases the cost.

        Wind, like solar, is a generating technology that does not require a utility to build. It would be nice if we could develop hybrid solutions where we could put a utility’s lower cost of capital to use in a way that lowers the cost of energy to customers but allows utility shareholders to use depreciation, ITC, etc. to improve their return.

        • Levelized cost of energy from offshore wind was estimated at 7-8 cents last year, but Bloomberg New Energy Finance said prices fell by 32% in one year.

          The prices I was quoting are for 2024 or 2025, a considerable time for the technology price curve to continue to fall.

  10. Pipelines are usually abandoned in place. The ACP will be filled with radioactive material, and possibly other toxic substances associated with fracked gas. The periodic pigging cleans a lot out during operation. But I am not sure what the potential exposure is since it is buried underground.

    Nuclear units have a huge decommissioning cost. The reactor vessel and steam generators will remain radioactive for a long time. Federal law used to require money to be set aside each year for decommissioning costs, but that no longer occurs.

    There is no long-term plan for spent fuel storage. At the moment we just plan to stabilize the fuel in concrete casks and leave it scattered around the 100 or so nuclear units in the U.S. We seem to be unconcerned about leaving that legacy for our grandchildren to worry about. Like our national debt, I guess.

    Old fossil plants are usually torn down, with valuable parts (metal, etc.) sold for scrap, where possible. Although, there is the long term issue of ash disposal for coal plants.

    Much of the material in a wind generator is valuable and can be reused. Wind facilities are often repowered during their operating life, because it makes sense economically.

    • so is there really an “apples to apples” comparison between wind/solar tear down and other types of generation?

      I KNOW the mountaintop removal is not put back to original. It’s “remediated” which means it’s covered up but it still leeches acid into streams and will likely never grow real forests again…

      Coal Ash itself was not built into the costs… we’re paying for cleanup – additional and separate.

  11. In the utilities I worked for, ash disposal was part of the operating cost. As far back as the 1980s, we put impermeable liners in the bottom of the ash ponds to protect the groundwater, and installed water treatment to meet water quality standards before discharging the runoff to local waterways. Then put an impermeable cap on when the ash disposal area was complete.

    This was part of our normal operations covered by our rates. That way, those who benefited from the energy paid the costs of producing it, including waste disposal.

    Wind and solar units use many valuable materials that should be continually reused – cradle to cradle. So it makes sense to refurbish or recycle those units.

  12. On February 2, 2014 a drainage pipe burst at a coal ash containment pond owned by Duke Energy in Eden, North Carolina, sending 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. … The ash was deposited up to 70 miles (110 km) from the site of the spill and contained harmful metals and chemicals.

  13. Older plants were done that way in Michigan and New York, where I worked. What I reported was considered best-practice 40 years ago. Just not in Virginia or North Carolina.

    Our utilities did not have the influence over the political process that occurs here. The regulator consulted the Clean Water Act, told us what the standards were and we met them. The problem was solved much less expensively when it occurred, rather spending billions now because the utility was able to avoid the cost years ago.

    We recovered our disposal costs. We did not earn a profit on it.

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