The first U.S. offshore wind energy project on a federal lease is on track to begin construction in May, and its Virginia backers are moving to position the state as a central base for building more off the East Coast.

On Tuesday the Port of Virginia announced a lease agreement with wind developer Ørsted to provide 40 acres of area for staging wind turbine components, material and vessels for offshore construction. The company already has arrangements with the Tradepoint Atlantic terminals near Baltimore, Md., to support its Skipjack wind project off the Maryland coast.

The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind, or CVOW project, will be two 6-megawatt Siemens Gamesa turbines on a 2,135-acre tract leased form the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management by the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy 27 miles east of Virginia Beach. The turbines will be built by Ørsted for power provider Dominion Energy.

“These are truly test turbines,” said Jennifer Palestrant, chief deputy of the state energy agency, and former director of the Southeast Maritime and Transportation Center at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk.

Dominion, Ørsted and the state agency will work with researchers at Old Dominion University on studies for future commercial-scale developments – including Dominion’s plans for more than 2,600 MW of turbine power on its adjacent federal lease.

With 220 machines, it would be the largest in U.S. waters when operations start in 2026 and capable of powering up to 650,000 homes, “basically everything from Virginia Beach to Richmond,” Palestrant said Wednesday in an online conference with BOEM and the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

Virginia state and maritime officials are heavily promoting the Norfolk-Hampton Roads region as a base for offshore wind developers, who face bridge heights, already crowded terminal areas and other constraints at East Coast ports.

In contrast Virginia has five locations without any air draft restrictions – the result of government policies, pre-dating World War II, to build bridge-tunnel crossings of the harbors and Chesapeake Bay to ensure the Navy fleet would never be bottled up by an enemy attack to drop bridges, said Palestrant.

With its 55-foot draft main channel and shipyard industry, “one thing we do better than anyone is large-scale maritime steel,” she said.

Dominion Wednesday announced it is planning a project labor agreement with the Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Laborer’s International Union of North America Mid-Atlantic Region to perform the onshore electrical interconnection work for the first stage of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind commercial project.

Along with assuring use of local contractors and suppliers, wind developers have been building political alliances with Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states with promises of hiring union labor.

“The union commitment to safety, excellence, and creating well-paying jobs with good benefits aligns with our values,” said Thomas F. Farrell, II, Dominion Energy’s chairman and CEO, in a joint statement with labor leaders. “We look forward to working with our union partners on delivering the jobs, environmental and economic benefits of Virginia renewable energy to the Commonwealth.”

“Our affiliates at the Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council look forward to working with Dominion on this new and exciting sector of Virginia’s energy portfolio,” said Jason Parker, president of the Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council. “Our commitment to Virginia’s future, economy, and the well-being of our state’s resources, animals, and habitats make us the right partners for Dominion on this complicated yet rewarding project.”

“The IBEW is pleased to continue our partnership with Dominion Energy and the respective crafts of the Virginia State Building Trades Council in the formation of a project labor agreement covering the fabrication, assembly, transportation and installation of the nation’s largest planned offshore wind farm,” said Lonnie R. Stephenson, International President, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “This project will provide affordable, reliable, renewable energy for years to come. The use of local, skilled tradesmen and women will ensure that the project is built and installed to world class standards of safety, efficiency and quality,” said Lonnie R. Stephenson, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.