As resident in Virginia for 42 years, the following comments are respectfully submitted regarding preparation of the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan. Drawing from my personal experience as an engineer, having served as wind and renewable energy Program Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from 1977-1998 and subsequently, 1998-present, on related commercial energy projects currently as Vice President at Princeton Energy Resources International (PERI).
This discussion expands on the verbal testimony provided during the Listening Session sponsored by DMME and held at George Mason University on 16 August 2018. At that meeting it was strongly suggested that the Energy Plan should emphasize the huge untapped potential in land-based wind energy, as well as solar and offshore wind resources. Also discussed were needed fixes to existing bureaucratic impediments to sustainable energy development. The latter Issues regarding solar and sea-based wind have been thoroughly addressed in the framework for the Energy Plan and in numerous comments submitted by others; therefore carbon emission reduction, climate and other renewable energy sources will not be repeated here.
Land Based Wind – the overlooked opportunity.
Wind resource potential is huge – based on estimates of wind energy potential in Virginia developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Utility-scale wind turbines deployed worldwide today typically have towers up to 110 meters tall. These machines can reach and harvest the strong wind resources that are available mainly along the coast, across Delmarva, and in the western mountains. Wind plants built in those areas have the potential to produce 35.2 Terra Watt hours (TWh) annually. That is comparable to current electricity produced by in-state nuclear and coal plants. Moreover, new larger, taller turbines currently operating on land-based sites in Europe will have much broader application here in Virginia. These next generation turbines can be economically viable in projects across wide areas from the Tidewater area to the Piedmont. Suitable sites are found in agricultural areas in every county across the Commonwealth. According to DOE, these sites have the potential to produce 258.4 TWh annually! See https://windexchange.energy.gov/states/va. These energy production estimates are based on assumptions in DOE Windy Land Use Model that excludes the following areas from consideration: 100 percent of urban and environmental protected areas (National Parks, estuaries, etc.), 50 percent of forested areas, and 30 percent of agricultural lands. Understandably not all the remaining sites may be usable but the potential exists to produce more than double current state-wide electricity consumption. For comparison, the State of Iowa currently has 7,312 MW of wind turbines producing 47 percent of the state’s electricity.
Cost of wind energy - continues to decrease for both land and sea-based wind plants and onshore wind plants are financially competitive with fossil fueled generation today. In 2017, DOE Berkley Lab reported that the estimated levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for the reference land-based wind projects is $61/MWh, within an overall range of $48–$108/MWh. Bottom-mounted offshore wind project LCOE is estimated to be $181/MWh. See https://windexchange.energy.gov/states/va. Forbes magazine reported in January 2018 that, “the cost of electricity generation based on fossil fuels typically falls in a range of $0.05 to $0.17 per KWh” [$50 to $170 per MWh] showing that land- based wind is already economically competitive. This is also the case in Europe where available on-shore sites were developed first, then off-shore. This is due to the lower cost onshore, available grid connections, and proximity to load centers. Resulting infrastructure laid groundwork for the subsequent offshore projects.
Wind Revenues flow to local communities and farmers – while lease payments for sea-based wind plants typically flow to Federal and State governments. In the case of Iowa mentioned previously, land lease payments currently total $20 – 25 million annually. In addition, farmers find that a wind plant occupies less than 3 percent of the land area allowing the rest to be used for agriculture. Revenues from the wind energy sales are also more consistent and predictable than other crops.
Visual and environmental concerns – will be overcome as wind project experience is developed. Exaggerated and fake news stories about sound and the environment can be invalidated with facts. Concerns about birds, aesthetics and land values have been found to be baseless in other states especially when considering mining in life cycle use of nuclear and fossil fuels. In the early 1980s a Midwestern farmer said to me, “That wind stuff works in California where power prices are much higher, or in Texas where only sage brush grows. But not here ...….” A few visionary farmers, utilities and governments proved otherwise. The concerns evaporated and the Midwest wind market took off. The same can happen in Virginia
Overcoming the barriers to wind energy development
In Virginia there are multiple reasons that there are currently no utility-scale wind power plants. These are discussed in a study completed for the U.S. Department of Energy by Princeton Energy Resources International (PERI). PERI’s team included engineers, economists, lawyers, and policy experts. They considered wind resources, grid access, wholesale power prices, cost and financing for both land and sea based applications, regulatory and environmental constraints in Virginia and the other Mid-Atlantic states . The final report titled, "Mid-Atlantic Wind - Overcoming the Challenges" focused on wind but many of the issues are similar for other sustainable technologies. Since that report was completed in 2012 situations have not changed significantly. The report is available at http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/1049317.
For Virginia, the report concluded that the following steps are needed to encourage wind development:
Unless there are significant changes in policies and incentives, Virginia will continue to miss out on a sustainable energy future, new job opportunities and needed environmental improvements.
Daniel F. Ancona III