NORTHEAST SEAPORTS ARE inadequate to meet the needs of the offshore wind industry, and ideas for filling that gap could create tension between the sometimes competing goals of those overseeing the burgeoning sector.
“Developers have studied all the ports up and down the East Coast several times now. What we’re really looking for is large areas, good capacities, no bridges and deep drafts. And if someone has that, please come forward,” said Christer af Geijerstam, president of Equinor Wind US, which holds leases for offshore wind development off the coasts of Massachusetts and New York. “The problem is that it’s hard to find places that tick all of those boxes.”
Local ports will play a crucial role putting wind turbine parts onto barges and other vessels that will ferry them to the construction sites offshore.
The need for more port infrastructure will no doubt spur competition between localities, but at the US Offshore Wind Conference in Boston where Geijerstam spoke on Monday, industry captains and government officials also extolled the benefits of regional collaboration.
“The long-term success of offshore wind requires economic efficiency, so a regional approach,” said Philippe Kavafyan, CEO of MHI Vestas, an offshore wind company.
“I think we have no choice but to try to operate together,” said Paul Formica, a Republican state senator from Connecticut, who said he would use his post as the co-chair of the energy committee on the Council of State Governments to push for conversations about regional collaboration.
Two of the Bay State’s other key efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution – the successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Transportation Climate Initiative, which is still in development – span multiple states with the goal of addressing the global emissions problem. The scale of the demand at issue during Monday’s conference – to put together the largest wind turbines in the nation that will be anchored to the seabed – could spur elected officials and political appointees to look beyond parochial concerns.
“In New England, we are a regional electric grid, so it requires working together when you’re talking about large quantities of new electric supply,” said Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson. “Of course we want to see the supply chain grow in Massachusetts and get the benefit of those jobs, but I think this is a very large pie.”
Apart from a five-turbine development off Block Island, the US offshore wind business is basically still on the drawing boards at this stage, but the crowded halls of the conference at the Marriot Copley Place demonstrated the hunger from international companies to open up the offshore wind market in the world’s largest economy. Ports will play a key role in that.
“There isn’t going to be, in my view, a single solution like we see in Europe” said Doreen Harris, of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “There’s going to be a diverse supply chain building up across all of our states because of the fact that we are a populous, dense, coastal area where thousand-acre port facilities are difficult to site by a long shot, so in reality, when one state wins, we all win.”
At least part of the East Coast supply chain will meet the water in Massachusetts, where public dollars financed a port facility in New Bedford tucked away in a walled-in harbor that is already crowded with a scallop fleet that has made it the wealthiest fishing port in the country. The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal was built to support the since-abandoned Cape Wind project, and now it is slated to handle about half the needs of Vineyard Wind, which is building a wind farm capable of producing 800 megawatts of electricity.
Lars Pedersen, the CEO of Vineyard Wind, estimated that the region would need the equivalent of about 10 other ports of that size to meet the demands of the industry. Pedersen said public funding has helped satisfy port infrastructure needs in Europe where the offshore wind industry is much more mature. He also said Vineyard Wind hopes to “start construction very, very soon.”
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