Dominion Energy announced plans Thursday to seek approval to build what it says would be the largest offshore wind project in the United States off the Virginia coast.
The company told The Associated Press ahead of a public announcement that the project would include about 220 wind turbines in federal waters it has already leased 27 miles (43 kilometers) off Virginia Beach.
If approved as proposed, Dominion says the approximately $7.8 billion project would produce more than 2,600 megawatts of wind energy by 2026, enough to power 650,000 homes.
“This is, to us, big news. It’s a big step for us to accomplish our carbon reduction goals,” said Mark Mitchell, vice president of generation construction for Richmond-based Dominion.
The project has been years in the making. Dominion already has an offshore wind pilot project underway, which state regulators approved last year despite their concerns about its cost and risk to customers.
Dominion envisions beginning ocean survey work on the commercial-scale project in 2020, submitting a construction and operation plan in 2022 and starting the first phase of generation in 2024, with 880 megawatts coming online. Additional phases would come online in 2025 and 2026.
Each of those three phases is expected to cost about $2.6 billion, Mitchell said, though he added the company expects that estimate to drop as the offshore wind industry becomes better established in the United States.
A single five-turbine wind farm off Block Island, Rhode Island, opened in late 2016 and is the only operating offshore wind farm in the U.S., though other projects along the East Coast are in various stages of development. Mitchell said none would be as large as what Dominion is proposing.
Dominion officially started construction in July on the two turbine, 12 megawatt pilot project. Though the turbines aren’t expected to be installed until next summer, Mitchell said the pilot project — the first to be installed in federal waters under the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s process — had offered important insights that will apply to the commercial project.
“They were really important to learn exactly how to go about the process, the timing of the process, what the expectations were,” Mitchell said.
An energy regulation overhaul in 2018 that Dominion helped push into law makes it easier to get approval for renewable energy projects like the offshore wind project while giving Dominion increased flexibility in accounting for costs and virtually guarantees that it won’t be ordered to give customers refunds or lower rates.
Environmental groups in Virginia have generally supported greater development of offshore wind and have previously criticized Dominion, saying the company was moving too slowly.