Offshore wind farm business could be the biggest catch reeled in yet.
For generations, the Massachusetts port of New Bedford has served as a hub for New England’s fishing industry. Now the port is aiming to reel in its biggest catch yet: gigantic wind turbine components to be used in the construction of the region’s future offshore wind farms.
In 2015, the Port of New Bedford witnessed the completion of a new 29-acre marine terminal with the offshore wind industry in mind.
The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, owned and operated by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), was identified through a study commissioned by MassCEC to assess potential sites to serve as a staging ground for offshore wind farm components and construction equipment.
The port not only offered an available waterside vacant industrial property but provided direct deep-water access without overhead obstructions to vessels, which are necessary transportation infrastructure attributes to support planned offshore wind farm sites close to Martha’s Vineyard.
Construction of the estimated $113 million New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal got under way in 2013 after MassCEC’s extensive two-year study, which included technical input from European ports and offshore wind turbine manufacturers.
Bill White, MassCEC’s senior director for offshore wind, said visits were made to ports in Germany and Denmark that frequently handle offshore wind turbine components. Siemens, a large supplier of offshore wind turbines, offered insights into current and future load factors for the New Bedford terminal’s designers to consider.
A Siemens 3.6-megawatt offshore wind turbine tower, which is transported in sections, weighs from 180 to 200 tons, while the rotor and nacelle, which houses the generator, weighs 220 tons. The turbine’s three blades, which are made of lightweight carbon and polyester fibers, pose a logistics challenge due to their 170-foot lengths.
Another key component of an offshore wind turbine, and the heaviest, is the foundation that anchors the machine to the seabed. Made of steel, concrete or a combination of both, these foundations easily can weigh more than 1,000 tons each.
“We built the New Bedford terminal with heavy load points all the way around,” White said, adding that the decking is designed to handle up to 4,100 pounds per square foot and crane loads of up to 20,485 per square foot.
Offshore wind turbines with electrical outputs of more than double the size of the current industry standard, 4- to 5-megawatt machines are planned to enter the market, promising even heavier and longer components for marine terminal operators to handle. Over the next several years, General Electric has plans to introduce a 12-megawatt offshore wind turbine with an 853-foot tall tower and blades each measuring about 350 feet long.
“We were lucky to have the input from wind turbine manufacturers early on,” said Greg Dolan, manager of the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. “Their assessments about the increasing size of the components in 2010 to 2012 were spot on.”
The Europeans have three decades of offshore wind farm experience on the United States, with the first set of 11 turbines erected in the waters off Vindeby, Denmark, in 1991. In the years following, thousands of increasingly larger turbines were erected in the waters of the North and Baltic seas, with Denmark, the U.K. and Germany leading the way.
Offshore wind farms for the United States have been in the planning stages since 2010, when the Department of the Interior approved a 130-turbine offshore wind farm about five miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Although it had the potential to generate 450 megawatts or enough electricity for 400,000 homes, political opposition eventually scuttled the project in May.
However, this didn’t stop Massachusetts from pursuing other large offshore wind farms. In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law an energy bill that commits Massachusetts to becoming the largest consumer of offshore wind-generated electric power, specifically 1,600 megawatts, by June 2027.
The law has given three offshore wind farm developers — Vineyard Wind, Deepwater Wind and Bay State Wind — that already have their federal leases for projects off the coast of Massachusetts the confidence to move forward. Vineyard Wind has a 166,886-acre lease off the coast of Massachusetts, while Deepwater Wind has a 164,750-acre lease and Bay State Wind has a 187,523-acre lease.
For MassCEC, the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal’s opening is just in time for handling offshore wind turbine components, with Vineyard Wind planning to get its 800-megawatt offshore wind farm construction under way in late 2020. The project is expected to take 18 months to build.
While Vineyard Wind’s offshore wind farm will be the largest in the United States when it’s constructed, it’s not the first. That distinction goes to Deepwater Wind, which completed installation of a five-turbine, 30-megawatt offshore wind farm about four miles off the coast of Rhode Island’s Block Island in December 2016. (Deepwater Wind was acquired by Danish energy giant Ørsted for $510 million on Monday, with regulatory approval expected by year’s end. The new U.S. entity will be named Ørsted US Offshore Wind.)
MassCEC said the New Bedford terminal’s labor force, under the management of two stevedores, Maritime International and Waterson Terminal Services, are highly experienced at handling breakbulk and project cargoes.
However, with all the planned wind farm construction off the coast of Massachusetts and other nearby states during the next 10 years, MassCEC realizes there will be more than enough business than the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal alone can handle. In October 2017, MassCEC completed a report assessing another 18 waterfront sites in the New Bedford and Boston/Quincy areas that offer potential for supporting offshore wind farm work.
“We always envisioned the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal to be multipurpose, although offshore wind farm business is growing rapidly,” White said. “States throughout the region are mobilizing to ready for it.”
Rhode Island has two ports that have made infrastructure changes to their terminals in recent years to become attractive staging grounds for the region’s offshore wind farm developers.
The Port of Davisville, which is managed by the Quonset Development Corp., assisted in the vessel transloading of some components for the five offshore wind turbines used at Block Island, said Steven King, managing director.
In 2010, Quonset Development Corp. received a $22.3 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the Department of Transportation to help reinforce the Davisville pier, purchase a mobile crane capable of lifting 200 tons and widen some roads between the port and two Deepwater Wind production and staging properties each about a half mile away. Davisville is also adjacent to the 3,160-acre Quonset Business Park.
Rhode Island’s Port of Providence, which is managed by Waterson Terminal Services, also had a significant hand in the nation’s first offshore wind farm. During its construction in mid-2016, the port received the tower sections and 15 blades for the five turbines.
In recent years, both the ports of Davisville and Providence, which are experienced breakbulk and roll-on/roll-off cargo handlers, have received occasional shiploads of wind turbine components from overseas for landside wind farms across the state. In early September, a ship transporting 21 wind turbine blades offloaded at Davisville. From there, the blades were trucked to Rhode Island’s Green Development wind farm at Johnston.
Earlier this year, Deepwater Wind announced that it plans to invest $40 million in Quonset Development Corp.’s terminal and business park operations and Port of Providence in preparation for the construction of its 400-megawatt Revolution Wind offshore project.
Jeffrey Grybowski, Deepwater Wind CEO (now co-CEO of Ørsted US), told the Providence Journal at the time, “We will fill [the Port of Providence] in a blink of an eye with this project. And we will need more room. We will be using Quonset. And Rhode Island will be the centerpiece of our plan to build out this huge clean energy project.”
Vineyard Wind recently proposed investing $30 million at Bridgeport, Conn., in partnership with McAllister Towing to create a staging and partial assembly site for wind turbine components destined to its offshore wind farm near Martha’s Vineyard.
The Connecticut Port Authority believes that another of its ports that has potential for supporting offshore wind projects, particularly those planned off the coast of New York, is New London.
New London’s State Pier comprises nearly 30 acres, a deep-water channel, on-dock rail and access to major highways. It is 130 miles north of New York City and 115 miles south of Boston.
“The nature of the projects and the marketplace will decide how many terminals are necessary to support northeast offshore wind,” said Evan Matthews, the Connecticut Port Authority’s executive director. “We certainly believe New London will be in that mix and that New London has certain natural advantages. Like no overhead obstructions.”
However, he cautioned against the region’s ports becoming too focused on offshore wind farm work. “We believe New London is capable of supporting multiple port operations at the same time, and from a development perspective we are interested in achieving the highest and best use over the long term,” Matthews said.
In addition to the offshore wind farms planned in New England, New York and New Jersey, others have been staked off by developers with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in the waters along Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolina coasts.
Each of these states are focused on port and manufacturing infrastructure to support these offshore wind projects. For example, Maryland said developers will spend $76 million on a steel plant to support wind turbine component manufacturing and $39.6 million in port upgrades at Baltimore.
The Port of Virginia is aiming to become both an offshore wind farm component manufacturer and logistics center. Virginia’s 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act calls for the state to produce 5 gigawatts of power from renewable energy sources by 2028. About 2 gigawatts, or enough electricity to power 500,000 homes, is expected to be generated by offshore wind farms, according to the Vision for Virginia Offshore Wind report released in September.
In 2015, the state identified 10 sites in the Hampton Roads port complex that either have underused or available property that could be used to support the manufacture of offshore wind turbine components.
In addition to its docks, which are capable of handling heavy cargo loads and offer unobstructed, deep-water access to the open sea, the Port of Virginia has the largest available shipbuilding and repair workforce on the East Coast.
John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director for the Port of Virginia, said the port is “located in a geographically advantageous position to become the load center for the U.S. East Coast’s offshore wind industry.”
An operational sticking point for U.S. offshore wind farm developers, as well as the ports that plan to support them, is compliance with Section 27 of the 1920 Merchant Marine Act, or Jones Act, in terms of when U.S.-flag vessels are required to transport wind turbine components to the construction sites in coastal waters. Enforcement of the Jones Act by CBP for work in coastal waters is rooted in the offshore oil and gas industry.
While there are plenty of U.S.-flag oceangoing barges and American citizen mariners from the fishing and offshore oil industry to crew them, there remains a lack of Jones Act-qualified offshore wind turbine installation vessels.
The Block Island offshore wind farm avoided running afoul of the Jones Act by keeping the foreign-flag installation vessel at the work site. Wind turbine components, in this case, were transported on barges from the ports of Davisville and Providence and then transferred to the installation vessel. Until a U.S.-flag fleet of installation vessels is built, the Block Island model is expected to be used for upcoming offshore wind farm construction, said Charlie Papavizas of law firm Winston & Strawn’s Maritime Practice Group.
Offshore wind farm business could be the biggest catch reeled in yet.