- Published: 08 June 2021 08 June 2021
Will the US offshore wind market finally take off?
Vineyard Wind has recently received the Record of Decision from the U.S. Department of the Interior – Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the final major step in the federal review process for the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the USA. Vineyard Wind 1 is an 800MW project located 15 miles (ca 24 kilometres) off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and approval of the project is an important step towards achieving the Biden administration’s goal of bringing 30GW of offshore wind online by 2030.
Since 2017, the Vineyard Wind 1 project has been through an unprecedented and exhaustive public review process that has generated more than 30,000 public comments. Vineyard Wind will probably reach financial close in the second half of 2021 and begin delivering clean energy in 2023. So far there are only two offshore wind farm operations in the USA: the 30MW Block Island offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island and Dominion Energy’s 12MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project off the coast of Virginia. Together, they produce just 42MW of electricity. In addition to Vineyard Wind, a dozen other offshore wind projects along the East Coast are now under federal review. The Department of the Interior has estimated that by the end of the decade, some 2,000 turbines could be churning the wind along the coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina.
In comparison, in Europe the installed capacity of offshore wind is 25GW. The Biden administration has set ambitious goals to accelerate offshore wind development in US waters. The plan would generate 30GW of offshore wind power by 2030. To accomplish that, the Biden administration has said that it would speed up permitting for projects off the East Coast, invest in research and development, provide low-interest loans to industry and fund changes to US ports. However, the biggest obstacle could be the lack of available and suitable installation vessels.
The current wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) fleet consists of around 50 vessels of which two-thirds are utilised for building Chinese offshore wind farms and only serve the local market. The remaining vessels are mainly operating in Northern Europe. Also, none of the existing WTIVs are capable of installing 15+MW turbines. Another bottleneck for the USA is that the Jones Act requires US flagged vessels to be used for the transportation of wind turbine components and installation. The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the USA and requires goods shipped between US ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned and operated by US citizens or permanent residents.
Dominion Energy is currently building the only US flagged WTIV and it will enter into service in 2023. The vessel is designed to handle current turbine technologies as well as next generation turbine sizes of 12MW or larger. A solution that is followed by several companies to avoid the Jones Act is to work with feeder vessels on which modular motion-compensated platforms are installed. The platforms can be placed on US flagged vessels to transfer wind turbine components from a feeder vessel onto installation vessels in US waters. The motion-compensated platform provides a stable deck area because it actively counterbalances the effects of vessel motion.
The feeder/platform solution is a good temporary solution but clearly more (installation) vessels are needed to meet the target of 30GW by 2030. Also, since the USA is not the only emerging offshore wind market, most likely it will have to build its own vessels and/or relax the Jones Act and allow foreign-built (installation) vessels to operate in US waters.