First power began flowing earlier this year from what will be the first utility-scale offshore wind development off the US Atlantic coast and first steel is in the water for the next few projects. The feeder-barge system for supplying turbine components to foreign-flag installation vessels has been proven, and the first US-flag installation vessel has been launched.

US offshore wind is back on track

Source: Matt Hardison

By every possible measure the country’s offshore wind power sector is back on track. That was clear across all presentations at the Reuters Events Offshore Wind USA conference (June 17-18) in Boston. The contrast to the previous autumn could not have been starker. In autumn 2023, it seemed that offshore wind itself was falling as supply chain and permitting delays along with high interest rates caused several projects to be delayed or outright cancelled. Those that did carry on had to grapple with renegotiating power-purchase agreements. 

As developers persevere, government has moved to support. “We are creating an entirely new economic sector,” said Mary Frances Repko, White House deputy national climate advisor in her keynote speech. “When president Biden came into office three and a half years ago, there were zero commercial projects permitted,” she noted. “Now there are projects totaling 10 GW of power permitted, and an additional 1 million additional acres leased for future development, including the first leases in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Pacific. Regulatory agencies have cut 10 months off the permitting process, down to two and a half years.” 

One factor that both developers and regulators identified as a hindrance is the relentless push by manufacturers to develop larger and larger turbines. That has meant a moving target for all parties, including project cargo carriers and forwarders. 

At least one manufacturer has called a pause. “Bigger is not always better,” said John Eggers, regional chief technical officer at Vestas. “In the long run larger turbines will generate more power, but in the USA now the need is to focus on designing projects around the current supply line. That will enable projects to be developed in the next few years.” 

Robert M. Blue, chairman, president, and ceo of Dominion Energy – the company that has just started building what will be the largest US offshore project – concurred. “When we installed our pilot turbines, they were 6 MW. Now we are using 14.7 MW turbines for our Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project. We feel that is a good size for the project. The market will decide what makes the most sense for other projects.” 

When the first few rounds of projects were proposed, there was great concern over the availability of installation vessels. With delays and cancellations that concern has eased. Dominion has launched the U.S.-flag Charybdis from a shipyard in Brownsville, Texas. That vessel is expected to begin installing turbines at CVOW in the summer of 2025. Other developments are being constructed with foreign-flag vessels that remain at the construction site while US-flagged barges shuttle tower sections, nacelles, and blades to comply with the nation’s cabotage laws. 

Concern remains, however, about other types of vessels necessary to build, operate, and maintain the massive wind turbines. “The US needs to focus on shipbuilding,” said Sy Oyten, chief operating officer of Avangrid. “The need for vessels of all kinds is a massive bottleneck, in the USA and also worldwide.” There was particularly high interest in the Maritime Administration’s Title XI ship financing programme. 

Shoreside, the first few wind-hub marshalling ports are operating, including New London, Connecticut, and New Bedford, Connecticut. Portsmouth, Virginia nearing completion and already taking delivery of components. South Brooklyn just broke ground. Notably, ports in Canada have come to the fore as staging areas as well, including Argentia, Newfoundland; and the Blue Water Shipping facility at Novaporte, near Sydney, Nova Scotia.