The United States sees about 5.5% of its energy mix coming from wind power, which is significant compared to years past. In fact, today some states, such as Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas, have managed to integrate enough utility-scale wind power into their mix to meet around 30% of their energy needs. Other states have more modest amounts of wind, but many of those are actively investing in a growing wind industry.
Where does Virginia fall this state-by-state evaluation of wind energy? It doesn’t. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Virginia, along with the rest of the Southeast, currently has no operational utility-owned wind projects. We also have no utility buyers of wind, which means that there is no incentive to independent producers to develop wind projects in the state.
This regional gap in wind energy may cause speculation that this part of the country is ill-suited for wind energy. This is not the case. Our neighbor, Maryland, currently has five wind projects, comprised of 79 turbines and capable of powering 40,000 homes. Another neighbor, West Virginia, has also invested in wind projects, with five currently up and running, which are able to power about 126,000 homes. Not only are they our neighbors, but Maryland and West Virginia have very similar terrains to Virginia. Further, the cost of wind, globally, has decreased significantly, with averages of about $0.06 per KwH, while traditional fossil fuels fluctuate from $0.05 per KwH all the up to $0.17 per KwH. Wind offers a great way to hedge against the volatile costs of traditional fuel sources.
All hope is not lost for Virginia, however. There are a few projects starting up soon. For example, Dominion Energy has leased federal land with the intention of developing a 2,000-MW offshore-wind project off the coast of Virginia Beach. With the extensive regulatory process that is in place, construction for this project will begin in the 2020s. At the same time, Dominion has yet to include wind energy in its Integrated Resource Plan, which maps out the next 15 years of its energy mix. This calls into question how serious the utility is about implementing the project.
Another Virginia energy producer, Apex Clean Energy, has obtained the permit necessary to develop a 75-MW wind project in Botetourt County. This is a promising development for wind in Virginia, however, the company is unlikely to move forward until there is a willing purchaser of the energy it produces, which, in Virginia, would have to be an electric utility. Additionally, Appalachian Power has been attempting to add wind energy to its portfolio, most recently by attempting to acquire wind projects in West Virginia and Ohio. Unfortunately, this request was refused by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, explaining that there was no need for the additional energy. Frustratingly, in instances such as these, wind projects have been halted or stalled by regulatory barriers.
While wind is starting to pick up in Virginia, there has been no sense of urgency from the utilities, the legislature, or the regulatory entities. Virginia is in danger of missing the boat on this opportunity and may eventually have to buy its wind energy from other states because of a lack of investment and infrastructure. Some studies have shown that a robust wind industry in Virginia could support more than 15,000 jobs, many of which will not come to fruition without proper encouragement for wind. We can help change that – much like we did with solar – for Virginia.
Stay tuned to Powered by Facts to find out how you can support wind energy for the Commonwealth.