The Promise of Wind Energy in Virginia (Part 1 of 3): Look to Denmark

Jun 15, 2015

Middlegruden Wind Farm
Credit Energinet

This year, the federal government said it would give nearly $47 million to each of three states hoping to develop offshore wind power – Virginia, New Jersey and Oregon. 

Virginia said it would partner with Dominion Power to build a demonstration project, but the utility now says it can’t get started, because installing a couple of turbines is too expensive.  Meanwhile, Denmark reports it’s getting nearly 40% of its power from wind.  How did such a tiny country do that, and what could we learn from the Danes?

 Virginia Public Radio’s Sandy Hausman went to Copenhagen to find out.

 

Transcript:

Denmark is known as the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson who wrote many of Europe’s favorite fairy tales.

“It was a glorious day like today, out in countryside just like this.” 

The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes and other childhood favorites all sprang from Anderson’s pen.  The country is also known for the statue of a mermaid that graces Copenhagen’s harbor, for the profound thoughts of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and for strong, modern design.  In short, Denmark is a land of imagination.  Add to that its location – near the windiest parts of the North Sea – and you begin to understand why a country of just 5.6 million people has moved boldly into the business of wind power. Jan Hylleberg is CEO of the Danish Wind Association.

“The story about wind in Denmark is driven for sure by pioneers, but also by politics.  We, back in the 70s during the oil crisis, decided that we won’t be dependent on fossil fuels in the future, so therefore we have been developing wind for more than 30 years.”

Just beyond Copenhagen’s harbor, twenty turbines spin in the wind, supplying power to city residents, creating no pollution and costing nothing for fuel.  That’s an important point for Europe, where it costs more than three dollars a day for every man, woman and child to buy and import coal, oil and gas. 

When the Middelgrunden Wind Farm was built in 2000, it was the largest in the world.  Today, just 15 years later, wind energy companies are building turbines three or four times bigger – more than 650 feet tall.

“Have a look toward the blades.  The rotor has a diameter of 164 meters, that’s more than the length of one and half football fields.”

At this year’s meeting of the European Wind Energy Association, visitors had the chance to stand on one of them through a virtual reality display created by Danish wind company MHI Vestas.  Special goggles and headphones allowed convention goers to look out on a vast expanse of ocean and on the wind farm the company plans to build in British waters.

“Have a look to your right.  That’s Liverpool, about 10 kilometers away.  The 32 turbines that we’ll install here are able to power more than 180,000 homes.  I hope you had a great experience – and have a nice flight back.” 

Like the UK and Denmark, Virginia has great potential for offshore wind – a point stressed during a 2013 interview with Saifur Rahman, director of the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute.

“Virginia is one of the few states in the country which has very high quality offshore wind.  Our continental shelf is quite shallow, unlike California and the west coast.”

Dominion Virginia Power has leased land for an offshore wind farm with as many as 600 turbines, and the state can get $47 million in federal funding to help construct a small demonstration project.  That was supposed to be up and running by 2017, but Dominion is now  pushing the date back – saying the project could cost over $400 million – far more than it wants to spend.  Could we, perhaps, do without this early research?  Maybe consult the Danes?  What challenges have they faced and conquered? That’s the subject of our next report.

Virginia Public Radio's Sandy Hausman reported from Europe with the support of an Energy and Climate Media Fellowship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation.