Sarah Conley is a paddleboarding instructor in Virginia Beach.

Virginia has a dependence on coal and other fossil fuels that has plagued our state for ages. Dominion Energy has played a role in fostering this damaging relationship, as has an administration that favors the convenience of fossil fuels. So I found the news regarding Dominion Energy’s wind turbines in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area to be striking and refreshing.

Dominion Energy’s decision to build an offshore wind farm near Virginia Beach demonstrates a much-needed normalization of and transition toward renewable energy. This project includes the construction of two turbines capable of producing 12 megawatts total. While some have criticized the project for being too small scale, Dominion has expressed its need to prove the concept before moving forward with a large-scale wind farm. The payoff for this project to move ahead would be immense for the Hampton Roads region and for Virginia’s role as a leader in alternative energy.

The vulnerability of Hampton Roads to the impacts of climate change adds elevated significance to this project, for which Dominion is partnering with Denmark’s wind giant Orsted. I am amazed at how quickly I have seen the severity of storms and sea-level rise in Virginia Beach within my own lifetime. Residents of coastal neighborhoods are seeing more and more flooding of homes and streets. Rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns are leading to record-breaking hurricanes, such as Irma, Harvey and Maria. Hampton Roads has the highest rate of sea-level rise on the East Coast, and in the top three nationally with New Orleans and Miami Beach. Ocean levels along Virginia are expected to rise 1.5 feet by 2050. There is no time to waste in acting against these consequences of fossil fuel dependence.

As groundbreaking as this project is for Hampton Roads’s approach to sustainability, Dominion Energy’s legacy of environmental atrocities is not to be ignored. This project must be excruciatingly monitored to ensure the safety of wildlife, natural environments and construction workers. Alternative energy has the potential to be a successful, sustainable industry in Virginia, but only if we allow that to happen. We need a standard that evaluates implementation and addresses any instances of disproportionate environmental burden experienced by front-line, low-income or other vulnerable neighbors.

With a projected cost of $300 million for the two offshore turbines, there is worry of the wind farm producing an amount of energy significant enough to prove the efficiency of wind power and justify expanding the project. However, an expansion is sure to pay off in the long run in regard to the economy, environment and culture of my hometown.

We already know that Virginia Beach provides ideal conditions for a wind farm because of its strong winds and relatively shallow water that extends miles offshore. Renewable offshore wind energy would produce clean energy and protect the coast from catastrophic oil and gas spills that threaten fish, tourism and recreation. The wind industry could provide 1.5 times more jobs than offshore oil and gas, creating thousands of offshore wind jobs and manufacturing jobs by 2030.

As a person of faith, I see the need for a switch toward alternative energy as an issue of morality and survival. Dominion needs to be investing considerable time and money into this wind farm and similar projects to mitigate the consequences of its own actions over the years.

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