CVOW — or “sea” and “vow,” if you will — is a fitting acronym for a transformational offshore wind farm. CVOW, or the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, has been in the planning stages for years by Dominion Energy, a state-regulated public electric utility company. As the enormous project nears the commencement of construction, its name evokes a longstanding commitment to creating jobs for hundreds of Virginians while developing a new source of reliable, renewable energy capable of powering up to 660,000 homes.

Dominion recently reached two major milestones in the CVOW timeline. One presents tangible, enormous evidence of the project’s progress and the other, though more behind the scenes, is an important regulatory step. The first batch of eight massive monopiles reached Portsmouth on Oct. 19 after a weeks-long journey from Germany. And CVOW plans received a public final approval, called a Record of Decision, from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Oct. 30.

These events move CVOW closer to a working renewable power-supplying reality a decade in the making. The project is on time and on budget, with over 90% of costs fixed, having avoided delays and cost overruns that have plagued other offshore wind projects. Offshore construction will commence in May 2024, and all CVOW turbines are expected to be up and running by late 2026.

“It’s extremely exciting and rewarding,” said John Larson, director of public policy and economic development at Dominion. “It’s a great thing for Virginia businesses and Virginia workers.”

Economic Opportunity for Virginians

The planned site is in federal waters off the coast of Virginia Beach. Much of the activity to build and operate CVOW will be in the Hampton Roads region, centered on The Port of Virginia’s facilities in the area to capitalize on the port’s unrestricted access to the ocean, navigational flexibility, and deep, wide channels free of overhead obstructions.  

Following the success of a two-turbine pilot project built in 2020 on the western edge of the lease area, the commercial CVOW will use larger, more efficient 14.7-megawatt turbines. Once completed, it will be one of the first offshore wind farms in the United States, and one of the largest in the world, potentially the single largest depending on other projects in development. Its 176 next-generation turbines will produce a total of 2.6 gigawatts of power, partially on the turbines’ strength.

CVOW is oceanic in multiple senses of the word. Larson calls it the largest project Dominion has ever undertaken, and its enormity is complicated by its novelty. When Dominion secured the offshore lease area in 2013, no American offshore wind project had yet gone through regulatory processes, no domestic supply chain existed, and there was no specialized workforce to speak of. The pilot turbines were the first ever installed in U.S. federal waters. The past decade has been spent not only planning an offshore wind farm, but helping to build out an entire industry around it.

In 2020, consulting firm Mangum Economics estimated that CVOW will directly or indirectly create around 900 jobs during the construction phase, and 1,100 once the turbines are completed. Currently, around 1,000 people work on CVOW in total. About three-quarters of those jobs are in Virginia, with half of the total in the Hampton Roads area. 

“That’s been a huge focus of the company: how to bring the economic benefits of CVOW to Virginians,” said Larson.

Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project Hampton Roads 2

Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind

Foundational Pieces

In the design of CVOW turbines, monopiles are essentially enormous steel tubes that will be driven into the sea floor, forming a base for each turbine. The monopiles are up to 270 feet long, 31 feet across at the widest point, and weigh around 1,500 tons on average. A single oversized shipment will take several days to carefully maneuver and unload. After so many years of planning, their arrival in Virginia is a sign of construction readiness.

“The company and the team members were extremely excited to see the first pieces of equipment coming to Portsmouth Marine Terminal,” said Larson.

The monopiles are huge, so the finished wind turbines will be as well — about 800 feet above the water at their highest point. But the closest towers will be 27 miles from land, far enough from shore to be difficult to see at sea level from land. “That’s one of the things we like about the Virginia wind energy area — it’s so far out that there’s very little visual impact,” said Larson.

From Process to Progress

In September 2023, BOEM released its final Environmental Impact Statement for CVOW, clearing the path for the Record of Decision. “The completion of CVOW’s environmental review is another significant milestone to keep  the project on time and on budget,” Bob Blue, chair, president, and CEO of Dominion Energy, said in a statement.

For Dominion, the next steps include onshore infrastructure work through the remainder of 2023. Approval of the Construction and Operations Plan is expected 90 days after the Record of Decision at the end of January 2024. This would permit offshore groundbreaking in May 2024, timed to avoid peak North Atlantic right whale migration. Construction crews will prepare foundations, cables, and other infrastructure over the following year, including installation of the monopiles and transitional tower pieces. Once the turbine foundations are complete, crews will install the towers, nacelles, and blades.

Dominion is currently working with regulators to allow sequential commissioning, to generate power from turbines as soon as they’re capable — the first would be online by late 2025 — rather than waiting for every turbine to be completed. If everything goes to plan, all 176 turbines will be finished and generating power by the end of 2026.

Full operations will be a grand culmination of more than a decade of work, but even larger plans for U.S. offshore wind are in store, with BOEM expected to hold its Central Atlantic lease auction this year.

Virginia is at the center of it all — literally and figuratively. For example, the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 set a target of 5.2 GW of offshore wind power by 2032. CVOW is halfway to that goal. “I believe there’s a robust future for offshore wind on the U.S.  East Coast,” Larson said. 

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