USA - Meeting the Challenges to Develop U.S. Offshore Wind Industry

The emergence of the offshore wind power industry is creating opportunities for all the sectors of the maritime industry but also faces execution challenges as it moves forward was the sentiment in a panel discussion hosted by the Coast Guard Foundation and the Maritime Association of the Port of NY and NJ.

The panelists pointed to issues that the industry needs to address as the U.S. moves into the construction and operation of its first large commercial offshore wind farms. The prevailing sentiment however was that the industry is making great progress and with cooperation from all the participants is on track to meet the U.S. goals for renewable energy.

“There’s never been a market like this,” says William Hanson, Senior Vice President of Government Relations & Business Development of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company. “I think U.S. maritime is doing a great job.” He highlights the commitments coming from companies such as his own, which ordered one of the first, large specialized vessels for the U.S. sector while pointing to the need to overcome hurdles to get the work started.

While there is much that the U.S. can learn from Europe, which is ahead in the installation and operation of offshore wind farms, there is also a need for the industry to continue to develop its own solutions. Peter Lion, Senior Advisor, Offshore Wind at New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) points for example to a lot of innovation coming about in vessels and finding ways to work within the U.S. regulatory structure, especially the Jones Act which will govern how materials are moved to the sites. Lion says that a combination of approaches are emerging in the U.S such as the feeder model where U.S.-flagged barges will transfer materials from the staging points onshore to the installation vessels.

“People look at the complexities of the regulations and the Jones Act and say ‘this is impossible,’” says Dana Merkel, Associate at the law firm BlankRome. “What’s needed is a lot of planning,” she says with the other panelists agreeing that transparency and cooperation among all involved is going to be key to advancing the industry.

The panelists, who each represented different segments ranging from operators and maritime companies to legal experts, government, and the USCG, identified challenges based on their perspectives. While much progress has been made on paper planning the wind farms, they point to the ongoing challenges of completing permitting while anxious to overcome the hurdles to get started on installation.

Manning Challenges

Some of the challenges are longer term for example the maritime industry already faces a manning shortage and now new people and new skills are required for the wind farms. Alex Parker, Managing Partner at Rose Cay Maritime points out that many of the skills, such as crane handing and sea skills, already exist in the maritime industry, while John Mansolillo, Northeast Marine Affairs Manager at Ørsted says that the manning needs are not just offshore but also require technicians and others involved in the operations and maintenance of the wind farms. NYSERDA, Lion points out, has identified 117 unique occupations that will support the offshore wind industry.

Training will be one of the challenges linked to the manning needs for the industry. Merkel of BlankRome points out that so far much of the expertise exists in Europe but that U.S. law requires U.S. citizens for the manning in many of the critical functions. She speculates that the industry might send Americans to Europe to gain experience or asks if simulators and other training tools will be developed in the United States to prepare the future labor skills.

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