So, Mitch, Are You “100%” Focused On Stopping New Offshore Wind Jobs, Too?

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The Intertubes lit up earlier this week with the dog-bites-man story of US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pledging to throw a monkey wrench into President Joe Biden’s plans for climate action, renewable energy, and job creation, among everything else. However, it appears that McConnell is whistling into the wind. To cite just one example, the US offshore wind industry train has already left the station, thanks in part to initiatives that flowered during the tenure of former President Trump.

More Offshore Wind Jobs For The US

One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell said in widely reported remarks on Wednesday, adding that “one hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration,” in case you didn’t get it on the first go-around.

US fossil fuel stakeholders are probably wishing that McConnell had applied some of that energy to the former administration, too. Although the former President famously championed coal, oil, and natural gas over renewable energy (well, coal not so much), the US renewable energy industry continued to grow during his tenure, and that included a significant jump in offshore wind activity.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management launched its wind lease program in 2009 and the program continued throughout the Trump administration. Regardless of any attempts to interfere with the process, by 2018 bids for BOEM’s offshore wind leases were setting records.

In 2019 — doing the math, that’s the Trump administration — BOEM issued a report titled, The Path Forward for Offshore Wind Leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf.  The report painted a glowing picture of the prospects for harvesting “an abundant domestic energy resource located close to major coastal load centers, providing an alternative to long-distance transmission or development of (onshore) electricity generation in these land-constrained regions.”

Much of the attention has focused on BOEM lease areas off the Atlantic coast, but new floating wind technology has opened up the Pacific coast for wind exploitation as well. During the Trump administration, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory also put the finishing touches on a report that indicates a place for offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico. Hawaii and the Great Lakes are other areas of interest.

The US wind effort is also international in scope. In 2019 BOEM convened a meeting of offshore wind regulators that included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and the UK. The Department of Energy followed up in 2020 by formally joining in an offshore wind collaboration with The Netherlands.

Scotland Shares The Love For Offshore Wind Energy Jobs

The global connection is also on full display regarding Scotland. Policy makers in Maine, for example, have been eyeballing Scotland’s offshore industry for inspiration with an emphasis on floating wind turbines.

An even more interesting connection is afoot in the proposed 1,600-megawatt Mayflower wind farm, to be located about 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The project comes under the umbrella of Shell and Ocean Winds, which is a joint venture of the firms EDP Renewables and Engie.

Last year Mayflower reportedly estimated the lowest-ever cost for offshore wind at 5.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for the Massachusetts project. Due to a stimulus package that passed Congress while Trump was still in office, that has reportedly drop down to 0.08 cents.

That’s a pretty attractive price for wind power. The next question is what about jobs, and that’s where the Scotland connection comes in.

Mayflower has pledged to support the local supply chain, and it just might get some guidance in that direction from the proposed Salamander floating wind project in Scotland.

Salamander is another Ocean Wind project, under the umbrella of Simply Blue Energy in partnership with the engineering firm Subsea 7, in collaboration with an offshoot of Chevron called Chevron Technology Ventures. Leaving aside other news involving Chevron’s fossil energy legacy, Salamander is a 200-megawatt, “pre-commercial” project aimed at demonstrating that Scotland’s domestic supply chain can gear up to make a significant contribution to mega-projects in the future.

That, of course, means jobs, jobs, and more jobs. To cement the connection with the US offshore wind industry, Salamander includes the floating wind turbine platform firm Ocergy, a company that has benefited from the US Department of Energy’s wind initiatives. According to Ocergy, its floating platform technology will be featured in the Mayflower project.

Interesting! Last we heard, Mayflower seemed to be focused on fixed-platform technology for the Massachusetts project, but that could change (more on that in a sec). The key point is the domestic jobs angle, and Ocergy is focusing on that like a thousand points of light.

Ocergy notes that the Salamander project has identified wind turbine foundation manufacturing and assembly as a key driver of local procurement for Scotland, and that has resulted in a wind farm development strategy that focuses on technologies with strong domestic supply chains.

“This process has identified Ocergy’s OCG-Wind concept as having significant potential for commercial scale deployment within the capabilities of the current Scottish supply chain,” Ocergy explains. Ocergy lists three elements that come into play:

  • Access to double the number of Scottish port facilities over some traditional floating concepts due to lower draft requirements
  • A scalable fabrication and assembly process, suitable for commercial scale deployment
  • A more than 30% decrease in fabricated steel mass, reducing the cost of energy whilst allowing the potential for local fabrication. 


The Advantages Of A Tailored Approach

Sam Roch-Perks, CEO of Simply Blue, teases out the importance of factoring existing infrastructure into offshore wind considerations.

“The heart of the OCG-Wind design philosophy is around building in modules for rapid assembly,” Roch-Perks said. “With space a limitation within Scottish ports, the ability to assemble foundations at speed means there is a lower requirement for quayside real-estate in order to deliver a high through-put of complete units.”

“Our technology roadmap has been focused on developing a low-cost semi-submersible concept centred on existing and proven industrialisation techniques, modularity and low-draft that is able to leverage significant local supply chain content,” Ocergy CEO Dominique Roddier emphasizes.

Speaking of floating wind technology, that brings up the key role that legacy oil and gas giants can play in the renewable energy transition, if they choose to go in that direction.

Not to beat a dead horse — but we will anyway — during the Trump administration in December, the Energy Department announced funding for two projects aimed at “innovative technologies not previously commercially used in the United States for offshore wind.”

One of the awardees was the Maine-based experimental floating wind project Aqua Ventus, and the other was the Houston branch of the global engineering firm Atkins.

The Energy Department has tasked Atkins with developing “a full-scale design of a floating offshore wind platform capable of supporting a 10+ megawatt turbine, using a scale model testing and simulation methodology previously used for oil and gas floating production facilities.”

The Energy Department does not specify where the new platform will float, though it does plan for installation and grid connection in an Atlantic offshore wind area leased by Mayflower.

We mention this because Ocergy mentions that a prototype of the technology was enabled through the Energy Department’s floating wind award to Atkins, as affirmed by our friends over at Power magazine.

SNC-Lavalin, Atkins’s parent company, has also enthused about a $1.56 million ARPA-E award floating wind award it received from the Energy Department in 2019 (yep, during the — oh, never mind).

“This funding represents a significant opportunity to grow our offshore floating wind presence in the U.S. and globally,” said Garry Ford, the company’s Executive Vice President for Asia Pacific and Americas Resources.

Globalism!

“The new concepts in the ARPA-E project could enable access to unused wind resources, enabling greater production and market access for offshore wind energy. The DOE funding will help Atkins develop technology that could support high-capacity (15 megawatt) wind turbines, which could increase cost competitiveness of offshore wind as an energy resource,” SNC-Lavalin explains.

Shorter version: jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

Whether or not Minority Leader McConnell is 100% focused on obstructing the Biden agenda, more offshore wind energy jobs are coming to the US — ready or not.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Floating wind turbines courtesy of Salamander/Simply Blue Energy.


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