News that a European wind engineering company plans to build a $200 million turbine blade finishing facility at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal gives a major boost to the drive by Hampton Roads and Virginia to become the nation’s leader in the offshore wind energy industry.
Siemens Gamesa, a Spanish-German wind engineering company, will supply blades for the huge turbines that will be used at the pioneering wind farm that Dominion Energy plans to build 27 miles off Virginia Beach. The facility will be the first of its kind in the United States, which has been lagging behind Europe and Asia in developing wind energy.
When it’s fully operational, the new facility is expected to create 310 jobs. After that, who knows? Siemens Gamesa hopes to be in position to expand operations to provide turbine blades for other offshore wind energy projects planned along the East Coast.
Virginia has wisely positioned itself well in recent years to become a hub in this growing field of clean energy. Legislators and Gov. Ralph Northam have pushed offshore wind as a strategic investment in future jobs, as well as an important part of efforts to move the United States away from its dependence on fossil fuels.
In a win for the environment and the commonwealth’s future, Virginia banned offshore oil and gas drilling in 2020. The Virginia Clean Economy Act that year set an ambitious goal for developing 5.2 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2034, and Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project is expected to produce half that.
Dominion already has the first offshore wind installation in federal waters, a pilot project with two giant turbines operating off Virginia Beach. It’s interesting and encouraging that monitoring shows the underwater supports for the turbines have become a haven for marine life.
Siemens Gamesa cited its existing partnership with Dominion Energy and good deep-water port facilities as factors that helped convince it to build in Portsmouth. The commonwealth sweetened the deal by offering $17.1 million in Virginia Public Building Authority bonds, plus help from the state Talent Accelerator Program in recruiting and training workers.
The new facility could, as various officials at the announcement celebration suggested, be the start of big things for Hampton Roads and Virginia in what promises to be the booming field of green industry.
As Bob Blue, the CEO, president and chairman of Dominion Energy, said, Hampton Roads could become “synonymous with” wind energy, just as Pittsburgh became with steel and Silicon Valley is with advanced technology.
The United States will be playing catch-up to the rest of the developed world as it works to develop the necessary supply chain to manufacture wind turbines and get them up and running. That growth will mean lots more opportunities for Hampton Roads to build on this early success to attract other related business and industry. It will bring jobs to the region.
Developing the great potential of wind energy here will help diversify the economy, adding offshore wind to the region’s economic staples of the military, ports and tourism.
Helping offshore wind energy flourish will be a win for the region in other ways. Carbon fuels are a major factor in the climate change that is causing sea level rise, flooding and more intense storms, all of which are serious threats to Hampton Roads. Becoming a leader in the development of this promising source of clean energy will help boost the economy while furthering efforts to protect our existing natural resources and economic mainstays.
Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, was in Portsmouth for the announcement, signaling the importance the Biden administration has placed on making up for lost time in the development of offshore wind and other types of green energy.
Hampton Roads is in the right place at the right time, and Virginia has done the right things, to be a national leader in this industry that’s building for a better future.
—The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot &
(Newport News) Daily Press editorial board