Plan to bring offshore wind supply chain to Southeastern Va. gets GO Virginia funding

GO Virginia was created in 2016 by state lawmakers to administer grants from the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Fund

By Trevor Metcalfe
The Virginian-Pilot

A plan to bring the makers of huge offshore wind turbines to Hampton Roads has gained financial support from Virginia’s statewide economic development initiative.

GO Virginia has awarded a $529,788 grant to the Hampton Roads Alliance to attract a supply chain for the offshore wind industry to the region. The economic development agency will lead a team of organizations in the project, including the Port of Virginia, the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Old Dominion University and local chambers of commerce.

Part of the grant will be used to hire two staff positions at the economic development alliance, one of which has been filled. Matt Smith started two weeks ago as director of offshore wind for the organization. The alliance also plans to hire a marketing specialist. Alliance President and CEO Doug Smith declined to reveal the salaries of the two positions.

As part of the grant terms, the economic development alliance will provide matching funding, Doug Smith said. The economic development alliance will also continue to fully fund the program going forward. The Alliance is funded by 11 member localities -- Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Isle of Wight County, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Southampton County, Suffolk and Virginia Beach -- and more than 70 private-sector investors.

“Part of our commitment is we’ll continue to raise the money for the program when the grant expires,” Doug Smith said.

The project is doing a research study of Hampton Roads’ offshore assets versus competing states on the East Coast, as well at the offshore supply chain and the hundreds of components needed to assemble the turbines. In the early stages, the study has found some good news for the region: Its maritime workforce is well-suited to start working on wind turbines.

The project will also have a presence in Europe, where much of the current wind industry is based. Andreas Paulicks, an employee with the PM&P economic development consulting firm in Frankfurt, Germany, will make connections with wind companies and attend trade shows. Some of the GO Virginia grant will fund the company’s work, and the Alliance also has an existing contract with PM&P for broader economic development work.

Two offshore wind projects are already being developed in the region. Dominion Energy plans to build a 2,600 megawatt wind farm off the coast of Virginia Beach by 2026, and Avangrid Renewables wants to build a 2,500 megawatt development 27 miles from the coast of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Dominion has said its 2,600 megawatt wind farm should generate enough electricity to power 650,000 homes when the wind is blowing steadily.

Matt Smith said the region should be aiming for a bigger goal with more permanent jobs: becoming the center of the offshore wind supply chain for the entire East Coast. Along with a skilled workforce, the region has a large port and extensive waterfront infrastructure. He also said that a state able to attract Amazon to build its second headquarters location would be able to entice turbine construction businesses.

“Our play is that if that’s coming to the East Coast, we feel like we can be competitive for a big chunk of that industry,” he said.

Before being hired by the Alliance, Matt Smith was a planner at the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, where he worked to bring Hampton Roads city governments and other stakeholders on board with offshore development.

GO Virginia is the program that was created in 2016 by state lawmakers to administer grants from the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Fund. Nine regional councils made up of business and community leaders approve grant proposals.

(c)2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)