Beating into headwinds but sailing on with support from U.S. federal and state policymakers, the offshore wind industry presented a snapshot of its current state at the US Offshore Wind 2023 conference held in July in Boston.
As the conference opened, wind advocates sounded upbeat tones. Jim Kendall, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's (BOEM) Gulf of Mexico regional office, said he wanted people to note how Shell was supporting the conference, which he said sends a huge message about energy industry support for wind.
According to Alicia Calero, regulatory compliance program manager, Avangrid Renewables, there are a lot of similarities between oil and gas, and offshore wind. The wind industry is building on things that worked and didn't work - especially with the safety practices available for offshore wind.
Workforce development and building the U.S. supply chain are among top concerns for the industry. After the conference's opening day sessions about finding people who have experience working offshore, Kendall said, "we already have people working offshore."
Similarly, the Gulf of Mexico industrial base is already supplying wind industry needs. Keppel AmFELS, Brownsville, Texas is building the first Jones Act-compliant turbine installation vessel, the 472' Charybdis, for Dominion Energy's Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. Early on, Gulf Island Fabrication, Houma, La., built the jacket foundations for the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm project installed in 2016.
KEY OFFSHORE WIND ISSUES
Five key areas were discussed at the two-day conference.
Workforce. Offshore wind workforce assessments have found that the industry needs to employ an average of 15,000 to 18,000 full-time workers every year between 2024 and 2030.
To meet U.S. goals, states need a well-coordinated regional workforce development strategy. This includes creating job opportunities within communities affected by offshore wind energy development, reaching out to colleges, technical schools to teach the trades, and work with labor unions to bring in younger members.
In Massachusetts, energy planners plan to release their 2030 workforce needs assessment soon. They estimate that they will need about 35,000 to 40,000 more people to work in clean energy. Other states up and down the East Coast have similar ambitious goals. There are a lot of U.S. offshore workers. However, they prefer to work out of Louisiana or Texas. The oil and gas market has 50,000 employees looking for new work. Of note, women make up 21 % of the global wind energy workforce. Eight percent hold senior management roles.
Collaboration. Christopher Fordham, a senior manager with McDermott International Inc., said his group is taking all the knowledge they've learned and continuing to learn and apply that to the U.S. Northeast. It is a continuous learning curve, and no longer a single mindset of "we're working on it," he said. Massachusetts focuses on industry partners. These include stakeholders to reduce risk, increase market confidence, and advance economic and workforce opportunities. Collaboration also includes supporting fisherman, jobs associated with the public, supply-chain components, and each other. For example, one state should manufacture turbine blades, not every state. Buy-in is necessary for the long-term. Not all stakeholders have the capacity to be engaged and everyone involved needs to be transparent with others.
Stephanie Watson, floating offshore wind program manager with the Governor's Energy Office in Maine, said they hope to use the University of Maine's research array to explore intersections of floating offshore wind with other ocean users in the environment. Plus, the Maine Offshore Wind Consortium will collaborate closely with other states and regional and national science and research partners.
According to Eric Milito, president, National Ocean Industries Association, the best way to move forward is to continue with collaboration and outreach at the local level. Specifically, to make sure that those living along the coastline understand what the facts are and how to move forward. "There must also be collaboration between Democrats, Republicans, states, and local municipalities," he said. On the federal level BOEM is supporting the development of the Gulf of Maine Floating Offshore Research Array. If approved, the state of Maine would lease a 15.2-square-mile site in the Gulf of Maine for the nation's first floating offshore wind research site in federal waters.
Supply Chain. Building a domestic supply chain will be critical for the sustainable growth of the offshore wind industry. The biggest barriers are cost overruns, finding vendors who include safety, and local suppliers that understand the marketplace. In the U.S., however, there is widespread uncertainty about the level of investment necessary to build critical resources. Suppliers and businesses don't understand the length of time or amount of money these wind projects will need. Plus, there are significant gaps in manufacturing, ports, vessels, work, and workforce needed to meet targets.
Patrick Henry, senior director of the sustainable business group at DAI, said a lot of operators coming into the offshore wind space traditionally work in other industries. "Globally, they're very good at supplier development programs. It's what they've had to do to operate in a greenfield environment."
Permitting. Michael Brown, country manager U.S., Ocean Winds, said developers are struggling with permits at both the state and federal level. "We need to see the state's composition," said Brown. "Or we need to see the federal government and interagency issues that we're all suffering at, so that we can get our elements for our projects."
Pricing. Molly Morris, president, Equinor Wind US, said pricing is the perfect storm of what's happening right now. She feels lucky to have contracts that are negotiable with the industry, and knows they have a place where they can sell their energy. However, the downside is a locked project price that is no longer viable. These price challenges are due to high inflation, supply chain challenges, and squeezing manufacturers to make factory buildings bigger, to name a few. Plus, she said, "developers are bidding on technology that doesn't exist yet." The competition to increase megawatts is hurting the numbers. Decreasing the number of megawatts may help with pricing and get more signed contracts.
By Robin G. Coles, Correspondent