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Powering Up

Ports play a critical role in the supply chain for both offshore and land-based windfarms.

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By Tom Peters 02-02-2020 07:03:35

(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2019 edition.)

The world is moving in many directions to combat global warming including a major push to drastically reduce and, at some point, eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Wind energy has emerged as a viable and popular alternative, and its growth as a clean and renewable resource has governments rewriting legislation to feed and foster an insatiable appetite for windfarm development.

The U.S. offshore wind marketplace is exploding,” says Liz Burdock, President & CEO of the nonprofit Business Network for Offshore Wind, “as states like Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and others keep increasing their offshore wind commitments to hit their overall clean energy mandates by 2030 and 2050. The U.S. presently has a pipeline of 23,570 MW of offshore wind, which is going to require approximately 2,500 foundations, transition pieces, towers and turbines as well as 7,500 blades.”

That means ports in the U.S., both large and small, are likely to see increased activity from offshore wind for the foreseeable future.

The U.S. can expect approximately 100,000 MW of offshore wind by 2050,” Burdock adds, “which means planning and investing in port development and logistics must start immediately.” According to an International Energy Agency report, offshore wind could attract approximately $1 trillion of cumulative investment.

Portfolio of Ports

The U.S. doesn’t have a single all-purpose, custom-built offshore wind port with appropriately designed terminals and adjacent land with sufficient acreage to perform all the needed tasks in one central location. This means there will be a “portfolio of ports,” says Burdock, along the East Coast performing different functions associated with offshore wind installation. Many of the U.S.’s Atlantic Coast ports have height restrictions from bridges that limit their suitability.

In addition, ports having the capability to receive and store offshore wind components will also need to perform “dressing” or fitting-out of the components such as the secondary steel and electronics systems in the transition pieces.

Beyond the waterside space in which components will be received, stored and ‘dressed,’” Burdock explains, “they will require carefully coordinated deployment as they are installed in the offshore windfarm. Each turbine, tower and transition piece has to be matched with its custom-made foundation for the specific location within the offshore windfarm for which it was designed and fabricated.”

Ahead of the Curve

The Port of Davisville in the Quonset Business Park on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island is ahead of the curve in preparation for windfarms because of its previous experience with such projects, says Steven King, Managing Director of the Quonset Development Corporation, which runs the Quonset Business Park and the Port of Davisville.

King says Davisville has been involved in wind energy offloading and other logistics since the construction in 2016 of the Block Island Wind Farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island and the first – and so far only – offshore windfarm in the U.S.

Various wind turbine components for the Block Island Wind Farm arrived in Rhode Island via Quonset Business Park’s Port of Davisville,” he explains, “including steel jackets and over 28 miles of cable. Quonset also served as the principal port for the project’s heavy installation vessels over a two-year span.”

In addition, every terrestrial windfarm in Rhode Island had its component parts delivered through Davisville. Anticipating future growth, the port is beefing up its infrastructure: “In 2016, Rhode Island voters approved a $50 million bond measure as part of a $90 million rehabilitation investment for Pier 2, the workhorse of the Port of Davisville,” says King. “Construction began in June 2018 and is expected to be completed in early 2020.”

Pier 2 handles all of the port’s incoming heavy cargo imports such as automobiles, wind turbine components, electric transformers and other shipments.

Renovations include construction of a steel sheet to provide a new bulkhead for the pier, dredging of Narragansett Bay to accommodate larger ships and extending Pier 2 by 232 feet. The pier extension will create a third berth for unloading offshore wind components along with automobiles and other goods simultaneously. The rehabilitation project will extend the life of the pier to 2072.

The Davisville port is fairly spacious, spread across 60 acres of laydown and terminal storage, so it could use this space to store wind turbine components before shipping them to their final location. The Quonset Development Corporation is currently working with wind energy companies to determine what their future needs might be.

On the intermodal side, critical to handling such large and cumbersome components, King says, “There are 14 miles of freight rail throughout Quonset Business Park and roads that easily connect with major highways in Rhode Island. Wind turbines and components have been transported using these modes in the past and will not require further improvements.”

Quonset-based companies have developed an expertise in working on these projects. Specialty Diving Services performed welding, poured concrete, laid cable and built cofferdams for the Block Island project. In addition, both Governor Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation have been working to enhance jobs training programs throughout Rhode Island to prepare the workforce for offshore windfarm jobs.

Surging Imports

The Port of Pensacola has seen a significant jump in the number of wind energy components crossing its dock, says Deputy Port Director Clark Merritt.

In fiscal 2018 we went from handling 326 wind energy components and nacelles – we refer to a nacelle as a complete unit – to handling 1,645 components in fiscal 2019, a five-fold increase,” he states. “Additionally, our vessel traffic will go from four in calendar year 2019 for wind to 14 in 2020. We have also begun importing components from South America and expect a significant surge in imports for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.”

The extra business has, however, put some strain on laydown space.

We’ve had to maximize our on-port space utilization and coordinate in real time the storage and loadout of the equipment in order to maximize efficiency,” Merritt says As the port and its stevedores have been handling these components for over 10 years, we haven’t had to conduct any training or make any operational changes in how we conduct business. I would daresay our experience is unmatched by any other port of our size.”

Merritt says all the imports of completed nacelles are for onshore projects. “But we handle a lot of wind components that are not fully assembled,” he adds, “so those theoretically could end up either onshore or offshore once the nacelle is assembled.”

On the Horizon

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that Texas will have a total land-based wind capacity of more than 57 gigawatts by 2050.

How Galveston benefits depends on a number of factors including adequate laydown cargo space, well-maintained docks and water depths, competition from other ports, continuation of U.S. tax credits and ability and capacity to handle and transport larger turbine parts.

The same applies to all the other wind energy ports and wannabe wind energy ports. With continued growth in onshore wind and the potential for 100,000 MW of offshore wind by 2050, there's a lot at stake. Investment in port infrastructure could make all the difference in attracting more wind energy business and the well-paying jobs that come with it. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.