VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — BayPort Credit Union’s “Holiday Lights at the Beach” is a timeless Virginia Beach tradition, but this year, it’s getting a “sign of the times” upgrade.
As Hampton Roads braces for Dominion Energy’s at least $8 billion offshore wind project, younger generations are getting a head start by building their own energy-collecting wind turbine that powers a lighting display at this year’s event.
The display itself, located behind the Super 8 on 17th Street, was created by Virginia Beach students nine years ago.
“The actual display was designed by a Kempsville student in a contest that we ran as part of Holiday Lights at the Beach,” explained Beach Events Vice President Bobby Melatti. “We set those winning displays up, we had them built actually built, so the kids could then drag their parents down the boardwalk and see something that they did. That had their thumbprint on it, and that was important.”
Nine years later, Mellatti says it still is.
That’s why Melatti, a former member of the Virginia Beach School Board, coordinated the purchase and delivery of the 25-foot-tall wind turbine in association with the James Madison University Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy.
“It’s really important to think of the environmental studies program as trying to redefine what a classroom looks like and how do we give students the opportunity to have a voice out in the community,” said environmental studies program coordinator Chris Freeman. “That is really at the heart of what we are about as a program and that’s where this catalyst really started was trying to find ways for students to enter into the dialogue about renewable energy.”
Dominion Energy sponsored the project in concert with WINDSdays, the marketing arm of the Virginia Beach Mayor’s Commission on Offshore Wind and Clean Energy. The student structure is a nod to Dominion energy’s project.
“Dominion intends to construct 176 wind turbines, each 800 feet tall, 27 miles out in the Atlantic off our coast starting in 2024,” said WINDSdays Director Joel Rubin. “We need the whole region involved in making this new industry successful. Virginia Beach Schools can be a big player in educating kids about the opportunities this industry can provide.”
As of June 14, two full-sized turbines are standing 27 miles off the Virginia Beach coast.
10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox got an exclusive look at them this summer. He learned those two turbines are only the beginning. Starting in the spring of 2024, there will be 180 of the 14-megawatt turbines with completion set for two years later.
“It’s a little hard to put into words how I can say I was involved in the first renewable energy powered light display at the Oceanfront,” said student Jake Holston. “Even if we had failed, we knew we had gone out and tried.”
Lucia, a Kempsville High School Entrepreneurial and Business Academy student, also had a hand in the wind turbine’s creation from an administrative standpoint.
She and her peers acknowledge the huge number of incoming job opportunities. Lucia hopes this creates a streamlined way to get other students interested in joining the changing face of the Hampton Roads workforce.
“We have the largest turbine project on the East Coast, almost 200 turbines,” she explained. “That includes a manufacturing plant that’s coming out in Hampton and a special ship that it’s just built for the transportation and the management of these turbines.”
Their wind turbine can be viewed from today through January 2.