Still waiting on offshore wind power

The latest issue of Waterlines, Blount Boats company newsletter, landed in my inbox yesterday. In it, the Warwick, R.I., shipbuilder featured a piece about its partnership with UK-based South Boats.

We wrote about the agreement when it was announced last year. Blount was named the builder of South Boats’ U.S.-flagged aluminum wind farm support vessels. In the same article, “Wind Power” by Dale DuPont, we wrote that another New England yard, Gladding-Hearn, had signed a licensing agreement with Incat Crowther to build an 18-meter, 1,500-hp aluminum WFSV design to serve the nascent U.S. East Coast offshore wind industry. Gladding-Hearn has been an Incat licensee since the mid-‘80s and has built over 35 high-speed passenger vessels from Incat designs.

Photo: South Boats

Both Blount and Gladding-Hearn are experienced workboat builders and are poised to capitalize on highly touted but much delayed offshore wind projects. Vessels will eventually be needed to construct the massive turbines, lay transmission lines on the ocean floor, and provide service to the offshore farms. These vessels may well provide a building boom for East Coast yards. But first, someone needs to pull the trigger and build a few turbines. Here’s where some of these projects stand:

The closest to fruition, Cape Wind has faced stiff opposition from the start. The proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound would be comprised of 130 turbines. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is conducting public hearings on the project that could begin construction as soon as next year. Meanwhile, BOEM identified a large swath of federal waters offshore Massachusetts as a Wind Energy Area. Almost 750,000 acres will be divided into 117 leases. So far, 10 companies have expressed interest in leases, according to the state of Massachusetts.

Thirteen miles off the coast of Long Island, the New York City Wind Project is looking to create a large cone-shaped field that won’t interfere with marine traffic. This public-private partnership might become the largest project in the country. In New Jersey, Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy is proposing a demonstration offshore wind farm off Atlantic City but it has been delayed.

Maryland and Virginia both have aspirations to join the offshore wind boom but Maryland’s initiative died in this year’s legislative session over how much the proposal would cost. Last month in Virginia, Spanish wind farm developer Gamesa cancelled its plan to build a demonstration project off Cape Charles in the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, they will build it in the Canary Island.

Meanwhile the Atlantic WindConnection, a project that will connect all these proposed turbines along a 380-mile trunkline on the ocean floor, cleared a hurdle last week when BOEM gave it the go ahead to seek competitive bids. Investors, including Google, have pledged $5 billion for the project. This project will probably move forward since it can carry coal or gas produced energy if wind power fizzles out.

So, will any of these projects get going? Can the vast costs of offshore wind development ever turn into savings for utility customers? Will the Labor Department’s estimate of 40,000 new green jobs by 2030 be accurate? Will boatbuilders fill their backlogs with high-speed WFSVs? We’ll see.

About the author

Kathy Bergren Smith

Kathy Bergren Smith has been a correspondent with WorkBoat since 2002. She is also a writer and photographer for the Port of Baltimore Magazine covering shipping and port activities. Smith, also a noted commercial and fine art photographer, resides in Annapolis, Md.

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