WA - Blue Wind is coming: State spins up offshore wind supply chain initiative
In 1605, the intrepid Don Quixote came upon looming, hostile giants in the countryside. Trusted friend Sancho Panza tried to dissuade the hero from tilting against them.
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”
For centuries, wind has powered industry. And in the future, a much greater share of the world will be powered by wind. Offshore wind, and especially floating offshore wind, is proving to be a significant source of clean energy. In the U.S. alone, there’s over 52,000 MW of capacity planned in offshore wind projects. Some forecasts estimate that worldwide, offshore wind could generate between 380–394 GW of renewable energy by 2023, a six-fold increase in capacity over the next decade. Washington is scaling industry to supply the world with materials and components to produce this cleaner power.
And now Washington state, through the Blue Wind Supply Chain Collaborative, hopes to nurture the manufacture and export of offshore wind turbines.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee and maritime and manufacturing industry figures celebrated the announcement of a new offshore wind supply chain campaign. Washington state has entered the game to lead the development of next-generation offshore wind technology, creating manufacturing jobs at home while slashing emissions everywhere.
“Today we’re here to announce the launch of our latest formal initiative: the Blue Wind Supply Chain Collaborative,” said Joshua Berger, CEO of Maritime Blue. “Offshore wind is expected to be a $70 billion industry in the U.S. over the next decade. The collaborative aims to ensure that our region plays a significant part in this market.”
New markets spinning up
The first-ever offshore wind farm was built near Denmark in 1991, where 11 turbines powered 3,000 homes for 36 years. Offshore turbines are now spinning up in more and more places to light communities with clean, steady power. Off the coast of Scotland, 84 turbines generate enough power to light 450,000 homes. Just offshore from Massachusetts, 62 turbines will soon power 400,000 homes.
America’s total potential capacity for offshore wind power is more than 4,200 gigawatts. But there’s an added challenge for the West Coast: our coastal waters are too deep for the traditional fixed bottom technology. The platforms can’t be secured to the ocean floor.
That problem already has an answer: floating platforms for wind turbines. Giant as they are, turbines can be counterbalanced below the surface and tethered to the ocean floor, allowing them to bob and drift as they spin and churn. Floating wind turbines are the West Coast’s greatest opportunity.
“As two-thirds of U.S. offshore wind is expected to be floating, particularly here off the West Coast, the market potential is even greater in the coming years,” said Berger.
“You know on the East Coast, they are so antiquated,” joked Inslee. “They have to anchor it to the floor of the ocean. That is yesterday’s technology. We’re developing new technology to have a submerged, buoyant platform. We’re designing it right here. We’re developing a whole new technology to lead the world.”
No man walked on the moon before Washingtonians helped invent the Saturn V rocket to blast shuttles into space. William Dubilier pioneered the wireless telephone in 1909. The electric bass guitar, vinyl records, marine depth finders, dialysis machines, ultrasound technology, point-and-click computer operating systems, cellular networks, were likewise invented by crafty Washingtonians. This is a state where the term “impossible” is impermanent.
Making and moving big things
Washington state excels in making and moving big things. And it excels in making materials that push the cutting edge.
A huge crane hoisted a 12-ton Boeing 767 fuselage in Everett in June. The Port of Seattle in 2016 hosted the largest container ship to ever dock in North America. And in 2020, the Port of Vancouver USA accepted a shipment of 33 250-foot wind turbine blades, each as tall of the Statue of Liberty.
Wind turbines to power modern society are going to be huge and incredibly complicated. Some turbines use blades hundreds of feet long. To function offshore, they’ll have to endure the salty, corrosive sea. They’ll require special logistics to be stored, transported, and staged for assembly. Ports will have to dedicate space for “lay-down” and anticipate the challenges of maneuvering components that may stretch nearly the length of a football field.
But Washingtonians fit the bill. The state hosts the highest density of engineering and science workers in the western United States. The state is among the most-educated in the nation. The state’s existing technology sector is valued over $138 billion and employs more than 350,000 people. Washington is full of educated, experienced, capable problem-solvers and material-makers.
“To put this into context, what Louisiana has in the oil industry, we could have in offshore wind. The opportunity is huge,” said Inslee. “And I’m less worried about wind spills than I am about oil spills in the Gulf.”
Manufacturing mounts a comeback
“A new industry is emerging in the U.S. that promises to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and create stable, living-wage careers, and Washington state has a prime opportunity to lead,” wrote Ryan Calkins, a Port of Seattle Commissioner.
Calkins cautioned that America has a “lagging world position” in manufacturing, and that competition for clean technology components is fierce.
Presently, wind turbines are 60–75% domestically sourced. Blades and hubs are only 30–50% domestically sourced.
But the tides of world trade may be turning. Manufacturing exports from China are falling. America is breaking new records in factory construction. The Biden-Harris Administration approved in 2021 the construction of the first major offshore wind project in American waters, and also announced a new multi-agency offshore wind initiative in September. The administration has set goals to generate 30 GW of energy from offshore wind by 2030, and to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind energy by 70% by 2035.
At least one Washington firm is in on the action. Seattle-based Glosten first developed an offshore wind business segment in 2006. This March, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Glosten as a Phase One winner of the agency’s Floating Offshore Wind Readiness Prize. The program’s ultimate champion could receive cash grants worth nearly $7 million. The firm has another brilliant idea in a high-speed, carbon-fiber passenger “Foil Ferry” that would skate over Puget Sound.
Another Northwestern manufacturer, Portland-based Vestas, makes wind turbines operating nationwide, including within Washington state. Their soon-to-be-expanded factory in Colorado will employ 1,000 people to manufacture the company’s new V163–4.5MW turbine.
“Today, we’re launching something to bring us into the future. And that’s wind,” said Ugles. “The potential of the jobs that this industry can create is mind-boggling. ILUW looks forward to looking with other trades in developing good, family-wage, American jobs.”
Is offshore wind coming to Washington?
Washington state has committed to build a completely renewable energy grid by 2045. That requires a strong clean energy economy. With the capacity to engineer, manufacture, and transport components, the state is well-suited for the offshore wind industry. And the federal waters off Washington’s coast might also become a valuable resource. Two developers have submitted unsolicited lease requests to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency in charge of offshore wind permitting. Now the state is beginning to explore the possibility of working with BOEM on siting offshore wind generation.
But there are important, unanswered questions about offshore wind in Washington specifically. We need to better understand potential impacts to the ocean environment and fisheries. Treaty-reserved rights must be protected. The technology must also pencil out to be profitable, and there are substantial costs to transmit energy back to shore.
The state will partner with Tribes, coastal communities, the federal government, industry, and other stakeholders to begin to study these and other concerns. It will be essential to operate by a science-based, transparent process that involves Washingtonians. The good news is that Washington state may learn from plans and processes from other states, and we already have a robust framework for Marine Spatial Planning.
In short, the state is moving forward. And it’s doing so in lock-step with all of the communities with a stake in our oceans, our economy, and our environment.
“When communities build clean energy capacity, they pay their neighbors. They generate their own power from their own labor,” said Inslee. “So every dollar we put to clean energy pays us back over, and over, and over again.”
Gov. Jay Inslee spoke in support of the new Blue Wind Offshore Supply Chain Iniatiative Tuesday. Inslee concluded his speech by quipping, “I was told you needed some wind, and I have just provided it.”