By Ron Butler
Winds are powering Virginia’s future
Off the coast of Virginia winds are powering a change in how we generate electricity. The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project (CVOW) is a planned 176 turbine wind farm that will generate enough electricity to power 660,000 homes. One of the largest offshore power facilities in the world, CVOW will be capable of producing more electricity than the North Anna nuclear power plant. With some experts predicting Virginia’s electricity demand will increase by as much as 38% by 2035, this new generation capacity is needed to power Virginia’s economy in the future.
Starting with Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, CVOW has been a decade in the making. Conservatives have for years supported an “all of the above” approach to energy with wind and solar power an increasing part of the mix. States run by conservatives have embraced clean energy for economic reasons – solar and wind are often the lowest cost source of electricity. A recent CNN headline proclaimed “Wind energy is booming in deep-red Republican states.” Indeed, in conservative states like Texas, Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma, wind energy provides between 30% to 57% of their total energy needs.
Currently the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) is considering the costs and benefits of CVOW. Because CVOW is being developed by a regulated monopoly — investor-owned Dominion Energy – the SCC has oversight of the project to protect the interests of the citizens of the commonwealth. At an estimated cost of $9.8 billion, CVOW represents a significant investment. Is the CVOW the best way to meet the growing demand for electricity? To answer this question, it’s important to look at the alternatives.
The cost of electricity in Virginia today is significantly higher than it was two years ago, largely because of the rising cost of natural gas. Dominion has informed the SCC that electric rates will surge as much as 20% due to natural gas which generates 60% of Virginia’s electricity. While it’s easy to blame the Biden administration policies for natural gas prices doubling, the fact is the huge price hikes we’re facing today are also the result of US policy change allowing natural gas exports beginning in 2016. Before 2016, natural gas produced in the US was almost entirely used in North America. Booming production from US shale gas kept natural gas prices here below those in Europe or Asia.
Today, the US is the largest natural gas exporter in the world. Now, when prices in Europe skyrocket there is an immediate impact on prices in the US. Russia supplies 40% of the natural gas to the European Union. As the EU attempts to reduce natural gas imports from Russia they are looking to the US to make up the difference. Today 74% of our LNG exports are to Europe. That means potentially even higher prices for years to come.
Some point to nuclear power as the answer to meet our expanding energy needs. Currently nuclear power supplies 30% of Virginia’s electricity, but the cost for a new nuclear power plant is staggering. The only nuclear power plant under construction in the US – Plant Vogtle in Georgia is now projected to cost $34 billion – more than double the original estimate. While nuclear energy creates no carbon emissions and is a reliable base-load power generator, it is also the most expensive source of power in the US. Our current fleet is a steady supply of clean reliable energy and it should be maintained.
Which brings us back to the original question. Is CVOW worth the $9.8 billion investment? Almost everyone agrees the answer is yes. Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration is “fully committed to Virginia’s current offshore wind project” and will continue to support any future project “that meets Virginia’s economic needs and protects ratepayers from high energy costs.″
Conservative Senator Jen Kiggans and Majority Leader Terry Kilgore have said CVOW is “well worth the investment” and “Virginia will become a new supply chain hub for the East Coast, bringing with it hundreds of clean energy jobs and additional economic benefits.”
With any big energy project costs are a major concern and SCC needs to be vigilant to ensure that Dominion keeps costs under control and ratepayers are protected. With rising fuel prices, a true “all of the above” approach to energy with natural gas and nuclear, but also increasing wind and solar can insulate us from price and supply shocks. This strengthens our national and economic security. Virginia’s elected officials, business leaders and citizens have come out in support of CVOW. Now it’s time for the SCC to give the green light to CVOW.
Ron Butler is director of Conservatives for Clean Energy — Virginia. He previously served as political director for the Republican Party of Virginia and owned a political advertising business in Richmond for 23 years. Contact him at: [email protected]