Collectively, the organizations we lead represent thousands of large and small businesses spread across every locality in the Hampton Roads region.
We wish to connect and underscore the messages of two recent editorials. The Jan. 14 editorial “Learn from Jefferson Lab’s strikeout”
about the loss to secure the Electron Ion Collider was disheartening, but its message could not have been timelier.
While the commonwealth, our congressional delegation, the regional business community, Virginia’s higher education institutions and the city of Newport News’ worked together to secure the Electron Ion Collider at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, those efforts were unfortunately unsuccessful.
Turning the page, “The answer is blowing in the wind” published Feb. 3 spoke to the new day that is set to dawn for the economy of Hampton Roads, if we can apply the lessons learned and act aggressively to establish Virginia as a hub for offshore wind.
The $70 billion offshore wind industry is in the earliest stages of development and Virginia has unique attributes that make a strong case for becoming the hub to service the construction and ongoing operations and maintenance of offshore wind developments not only off Virginia’s coast, but potentially for projects along the eastern seaboard.
The Department of Energy estimates offshore wind could create 14,000 jobs in Virginia, including high-paying opportunities for skilled workers in management, professional and technical occupations in an industry that reduces the carbon footprint of our energy supply. While some may question this estimate, what cannot be questioned is the clear generational job creation and economic opportunity this industry offers the region and the state.
In the last month, we have seen notable indicators for Virginia involving global leaders in offshore wind.
Dominion Energy announced a partnership with Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy to supply turbines for the Virginia Commercial project. A representative of Siemens Gamesa recently informed a House committee the company is “actively examining” a $200 million blade manufacturing and O&M facility in Hampton Roads that, if built, would employ 750 people and supply a multi-state backlog of projects. That came only days after Ørsted, the largest developer of offshore wind farms in the world, signed a lease to use Portsmouth Marine Terminal for potential staging for projects up and down the east coast.
However, we cannot assume the good news will continue as other east coast states have similar ambitions and are aggressively increasing commitments to offshore wind. Connecticut committed nearly $80 million to redevelop the State Pier in New London into a wind energy hub that will service a windfarm project, generating 704 megawatts. When combined, the windfarms planned off the coast of Virginia and off Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, are expected to generate more than 5,000 megawatts. Still, the opportunity for Virginia is even larger than those two projects.
We need clear policies and targeted investments from state leaders to keep Virginia relevant. Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget includes $40 million for improvements at Portsmouth Marine Terminal and introduced amendments would fund a Division of Offshore Wind.
The General Assembly should support these investments, which are modest compared to those being made by Connecticut for a much smaller opportunity. The General Assembly must also pass legislation that provides certainty of demand for the electricity, provides incentives to businesses in the offshore wind supply chain, and invests in workforce training to secure this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Just past the halfway point of the legislative session, Senate and House members have passed bills out of each of their respective chambers that move us in the right direction, but we need the General Assembly to make the investments and agree on final legislation that will bring this opportunity across the finish line.
It’s very rare that regions have the chance to substantially diversify their economies and redefine themselves as the epicenter of a new industry. Our world-class infrastructure and workforce have caught the eye of this industry. Now is the time for the entire Hampton Roads delegation to unite and work with their colleagues statewide to secure Virginia’s place as a hub for offshore wind and truly capture this once in a generation economic opportunity.
David C. White is executive vice president of the Virginia Maritime Association, Douglas L. Smith is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, Robert S. McKenna is president and CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Bryan K. Stephens president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber.