Navigating the wind turbine channel

With a few computer commands, a new future takes shape in the approaches to New York Harbor.

Already well known for its role in training tugboat and city ferry captains, the two-year-old Bouchard bridge simulator at SUNY Maritime College in Throggs Neck, N.Y., has a new program that shows workboat operators what they can expect working in and around offshore wind turbine arrays.

Both New York and New Jersey have big ambitions for wind energy, up to 1.9 gigawatts from projects now in the pipeline for the 2020s — roughly equivalent to three onshore nuclear power plants, like New Jersey’s aging Oyster Creek station.

Ultimately there could be twice as much energy coming from offshore wind farms, according to the governors of both states. A new report from the group Environment New Jersey notes 13 wind developers have obtained East Coast federal leases so far, with the potential of generating up to 14.2 GW, or enough to power over five million homes.

One of the first could be Statoil, with its 79,350-acre Empire Wind project, planned to tuck in between two of the traffic separation scheme lanes that converge near Ambrose Light. The waters off New York are attractive for wind developers because they are close to load centers, and politically there is support there for renewable energy — not least because the new industry will be out of sight from most of its customers.

The Kongsberg wind farm simulator program includes a scene with a turbine service vessel working in the array outside New York Harbor. Kirk Moore photo.

The Kongsberg wind farm simulator program includes a scene with a turbine service vessel working in the array outside New York Harbor. Kirk Moore photo.

Of course, that would leave mariners and fishermen to deal with their new neighbor. In the simulator, new software from Kongsberg Digital Simulation Inc., Groton, Conn., projects images on the bridge windows of slowly twirling turbines, the Verrazano Narrows bridge in the far distance, and an assortment of traffic and weather.

In one scenario, an 18,000-TEU containership — modeled after the new generation of neo-Panamax box carriers that will be calling at East Coast ports — makes its ponderous way past the turbines.

In another version of the program, tugboat operators can practice for the possibility of an articulated tug-barge (ATB) suddenly experiencing a pin failure, and needing to execute a quick move to a wire tow.

“What about that wind farm? Better get that barge,” called out Eric Johansson, a SUNY professor of marine transportation, as a visitor made another attempt to reset the coupling on a wayward barge, the turbines looming closer.

Kongsberg is working to make these new wind turbine simulations ever more realistic, with modeling jackup installation vessels and crew transfer vessels that will carry construction and operations and maintenance workers to the high-tech windmills.

Developers are adding features to simulate the physics of docking CTVs, so operators in the simulator can get a feel for pressing the bows of boats hard against tower bases as workers hop off, said Clayton Burry, Kongsberg’s vice president for Americas sales. They are working on models of the new “walk to work” (W2W) transfer vessel designs, as large as offshore service vessels, with elevated, enclosed and stabilized gangways for workers to get in and out of towers.

By the time U.S. developers are ready to build, those may be the new standard for servicing turbines in the 9- to 12-megawatt sizes that are now emerging in the maturing European market.

A chart on the simulator deck shows the location of the proposed Statoil wind array off New York. Kirk Moore photo.

A chart on the simulator deck shows the location of the proposed Statoil wind array off New York. Kirk Moore photo.

The federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, in consultation with the Coast Guard, has to decide on the required navigational safety requirements and setbacks from shipping lanes that it will require from wind lease developers.

A March 2016 report from Coast Guard officials and maritime advisors sounded a skeptical note over whether wind farms and shipping lanes can safely co-exist. Renewable energy advocates challenged that assertion, pointing to European experience with operating wind power amid the continent’s busy seaways.

Direct engagement with the U.S. maritime industry is starting now, and the Coast Guard will soon put out a “call for information” to help its planning process.

A working assumption is that an integrated approach is needed to account for cumulative effects on marine traffic from large wind farms, all the way from southern New England to South Carolina.

“So this is going to be different,” said Johansson in the bridge simulator, as digital turbines whirled in a Kongsberg-created New York afternoon. “I don’t know how this will all fit, or how it will work out.”

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.


  1. Avatar

    Industrial Wind Turbines fail as a solution to global warming and meeting our energy needs. It’s as simple as the wind often doesn’t blow at high enough speeds to spin the blades, or create significant power from the spinning. Every MW of wind energy must be matched with a MW of fossil fuel generation, called spinning reserve, to make up for the shortfall. Here are a few articles explaining this and more:
    1) False Claims about “homes served” by electricity from wind turbines explained 
    2) The dirty secret of Britain’s power madness: Polluting diesel generators built in secret by foreign companies to kick in when there’s no wind for turbines
    3) The idea that wind power is cheaper than coal power falls somewhere between a meaningless statement and a myth:
    4) How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course

    • Avatar

      Sorry, Captain #MAGA It looks like you didn’t even read the NYT article. The problem is the marginal cost of renewable production is so low, compared to nuclear or coal, that you can’t justify capital investment in the latter. This is what’s known as a high-class problem, typically solved by Natural Gas cogeneration; you won’t find much sympathy in the maritime sector for that “dilemma”

      • Avatar

        Wind turbines ruin every place they’re built and decimate bats and birds. A perfect example is the once exquisite mountain views from Whitewater, CA that are now populated by a sea of worthless wind turbines and all the flashing red lights and strung-up powerlines they require. They have destroyed the bird and bat population in nearby Whitewater Canyon, and the few residents of the canyon have seen it right before their eyes. At a once thriving canyon “Bat Canyon” along the Whitewater River bats would fill the sky in the moonlight of summer nights. The wind turbines went in and all the evidence of the thousands of bats that inhabited the place disappeared. Same for Turkey Vultures that would ride on warm air currants above Whitewater Canyon and nest in the cottonwood trees in Whitewater in mid October and stay for 2 weeks. After the turbines went in the annual turkey vulture migration to Whitewater stopped because they were slaughtered by the gargantuan wind turbines guarding every ridgeline in Whitewater Canyon and all of Whitewater, California. They absolutelyruined it.

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    Plus, as we know all too well, hurricanes often hug the coast, not the best place for wind energy investment:
    1) Aerial Video: Puerto Rico Wind/Solar Structures Destroyed by Maria
    2) Wind Power Monthly: Chinese typhoon knocks out 17 wind turbines
    3) Hurricanes Pose Major Risk To Wind Energy Industry
    4) Why offshore wind turbines can’t handle the toughest hurricanes

    • Avatar

      Let me see if I get this straight: you’re against wind energy because of storms exacerbated by fossil fuel induced climate change? And I guess you didn’t notice the Hurricanes affecting the petrochemical complex along the Gulf?

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    The intermittent power from solar and wind are being addressed with energy storage systems. In fact, conventional sources of power also benefit from energy storage. There are parts of the country that have a minimal exposure to hurricanes and have enough wind to make wind turbines viable. And newer materials and designs could make the turbines more resistant to hurricane/storm damage. There are other renewable power sources that could be employed such as underwater turbines, OTEC (ocean thermal), and wave power.

    Coal fired power is especially dirty in most cases, and it’s not just the air pollution. The ash from the coal plants can pollute streams and groundwater sources. Who wants to deal with the problems of nuclear power plants (think TMI, Chernobyl, or Fukushima).

    Sure, it will take time and effort to get to total renewable power. It should be given priority as climate change is progressing and maybe accelerating. Sadly, there are those who would rather live in the past with their craniums stuck very deeply up their ani.

    • Avatar
      James Burkes on

      Nobody has yet demonstrated the capability of utility-scale electricity storage using anything other than pumped storage reservoirs. If you tried to use the most advanced lithium-ion battery storage, you’d need a battery the size of the John Hancock building just to store a few days’ worth of electric power. Electricity, by its nature, is not a storable commodity like soybeans and wheat. You almost always use electricity as it is produced.

      As far as “living in the past” is concerned, advocates of windmills and solar panels and/or solar thermal are the ones doing that. Those are ancient, primitive forms of energy. Windmills date back to the early Middle Ages, and solar energy was being used by the cave dwellers of the Neolithic age. Even as recently as a few hundred years ago, sailing vessels were often becalmed for lack of wind to fill their sails. As soon as external combustion engines and steam power were developed for maritime vessels, the sails got tossed overboard.

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