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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Leads Effort to Accelerate Federal Reviews for Proposed Offshore Wind Farms

By Joe Garvey

The Virginia Offshore Wind Project recently received a significant boost, thanks largely to Old Dominion University's role in helping to develop a new federal permitting initiative that aims to accelerate federal reviews for proposed offshore wind farms.

The initiative, which was developed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, led to an agreement between the federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) and the North Atlantic Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that will give the agencies additional scientific and technical resources to evaluate offshore wind projects.

The permitting initiative was developed by Paul Olsen, a former USACE Norfolk district commander who serves as executive director of programs and partnerships in the Office of Research at ODU. His concept employs a seldom-used federal authority that allows the USACE to provide interagency assistance for critical infrastructure projects.

"Virginia is blessed with an abundance of retired military leaders and thinkers," Olsen said in a statement released by the governor's office. "This is a great example of how we can put our federal experience to work to benefit the commonwealth and our nation."

This partnership allows USACE to immediately provide technical support to BOEM to facilitate federal reviews and assist in decision making on the growing number of offshore wind projects. This additional capacity will allow BOEM to focus on a broader range of challenges, including the development of more offshore wind leases that could offer additional market opportunity and help secure the supply chain needed to reach renewable energy targets.

"Innovative partnerships like this signal to the world that Virginia and the Southeast are prepared to lead the clean energy economy," Gov. Ralph Northam said. "With offshore wind, we have a unique opportunity to address the climate crisis while creating new jobs and driving economic growth. I am thrilled that the commonwealth could help provide a solution to improve the federal permitting process for offshore wind development and ensure this industry is able to truly take off."

The agreement covers all renewable energy activities along the Atlantic Coast, but the initial focus will be on the review of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project and the Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project in North Carolina.

The partnership is important because as new offshore wind leases are approved and developers such as Dominion Energy Inc. and Avangrid Renewables submit their construction and operations plans (COPs), those plans add to a backlog of COPs needing review by the relatively small BOEM.

The Virginia Maritime Association was among those bringing attention of the issue to Congress because an increasing review backlog could potentially delay the construction of offshore wind farms for years.

In February, Sen. Mark Warner convened a town hall during which ODU proposed a concept to allow USACE to provide interagency assistance for critical infrastructure projects. Within three months, USACE agreed to provide the needed technical support to BOEM to facilitate federal reviews, provide technical assistance and assist in BOEM in its decision making.

"This historic agreement should further add to the economic boon for our region, as well as increasing Hampton Roads' chances to become the supply chain hub for future Atlantic Coast offshore wind farms," Olsen said.

In 2019, ODU established an offshore wind task force to help align public- and private-sector interests as Dominion Energy prepares to build a 220-turbine wind farm approximately 27 miles off the Virginia Beach coast. The planned $7.8 billion megaproject would be the largest offshore wind farm in the country when fully built.

This May, ODU's OpenSeas Technology Innovation Hub helped launch the Virginia Offshore Wind Landing, a collaborative space where companies can connect and access resources to join the region's maritime network and growing offshore wind industry.

In 2020, Northam signed legislation that established a target for Virginia to generate 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2034.

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