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Federal judge rejects request to halt Dominion’s Virginia Beach offshore wind farm

Dominion Energy’s pilot turbines off Virginia Beach. (Photo by Laura Philion)
Dominion Energy’s pilot turbines off Virginia Beach. (Photo by Laura Philion)

A federal judge has denied a request from a coalition of conservative interest groups that sought to halt construction of Dominion Energy’s offshore wind farm in Virginia Beach.

The groups sued the Biden administration earlier this year, arguing federal agencies ignored threats to endangered whales when approving the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.

The suit will still move forward this fall, but the decision issued last week denied plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction to stop construction while the lawsuit is decided.

U.S. District Court Judge Loren AliKhan said there wasn’t enough proof that plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm from construction on the project moving forward.

“Plaintiffs fail to take into account the extensive measures already in place to minimize potential harm to the (North Atlantic) Right Whale during construction,” AliKhan wrote. They “have not explained why these measures would not be sufficient.”

Scientists have repeatedly said there is no evidence linking any whale deaths to the offshore wind industry.

The CVOW project is set to include 176 turbines about 29 miles off the Oceanfront. The utility says it’ll produce energy to power up to 660,000 homes.

Dominion was allowed to begin construction this month, and installed its first monopile at the site last week – two days before AliKhan ruled on the injunction. The company’s using a massive support vessel called the Orion to do construction.

“We agree with the Court’s decision,” Dominion spokesperson Jeremy Slayton said in a statement Tuesday.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service performed a thorough environmental review and the environmental protections we have in place for CVOW are protective of the environment and marine wildlife.”

Those measures include limiting most construction to between May and October, when the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale is least likely to be in the vicinity; using trained observers at the site to scout for marine mammals passing through; and employing sound reduction techniques during pile driving.

Once completed in 2026, the Virginia Beach project would be the largest commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S.

The lawsuit challenging it is among the first along the East Coast using the Endangered Species Act to test the offshore wind industry, which has faced setbacks as it races to meet renewable energy demands.

The litigation comes from a coalition including the Heartland Institute and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which have denied climate change caused by human activity.

Heartland President James Taylor told WHRO last year that he views renewable energy as the wrong direction for the country economically.

"We're looking to protect (the) American standard of living. We're looking to protect affordable, reliable energy,” Taylor said. “But when you also see this environmental devastation, it just begs for us to get involved and to stand up for wildlife as well.”

The coalition contends that the government needs to consider ecological impacts from the combination of all planned wind projects along the East Coast, rather than each individually.

Dominion has dismissed the suit as politically motivated.

“Whatever plaintiffs’ issues with broader federal offshore wind policy may be, this is not the forum to resolve them,” company attorneys wrote recently in their opposition to the injunction.

In court, the Biden administration defended its decision to permit the wind farm, saying the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other agencies followed rigorous processes to assess any threats to whales.

Copyright 2024 WHRV

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