The pace of the US offshore wind industry is picking up, despite years of opposition fueled by fossil energy interests.

US Gets More Offshore Wind Farms And A New WIV, To Boot

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The US offshore wind industry has faced some choppy waters in past years, including demonstrably false accusations of whale-killing and the impact of a maritime law dating back to 1920. Nevertheless, the clouds are clearing. Somewhat ironically, much of the new offshore activity is taking place hard by former President Trump’s old stomping grounds, in the waters of New York and New Jersey.

Offshore Wind Turbines Are Not Killing All Your Whales

The false whale-killing accusations have featured prominently in the activities of local anti-wind groups in New Jersey, though reporters and other observers note that out-of-state fossil energy stakeholders are also at work, including a web of activity supported by the Delaware-based organization Caesar Rodney Institute.

In February of 2023, for example, the news and analysis organization Governing: The Future of States and Localities observed that some of the local opposition groups were “funded by pro-fossil fuel organizations.” Governing pointed out that the group Protect Our Coast New Jersey “solicits donations on its website for the Caesar Rodney Institute, a think tank committed to stopping offshore wind projects all along the east coast.”

Unsurprisingly, the whale accusations persist even though they were adamantly debunked, in detail, by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and elsewhere.

Vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the greatest human threats to large whales,” NOAA concluded in a March 24, 2024 update of its ongoing research. Other identifiable causes include organ damage caused by parasites, and starvation.

Not surprisingly, Protect Our Coast New Jersey is still at it. Just this past April, they pooh-poohed the idea of scientific evidence after a juvenile humpback whale washed up on the Jersey shore, showing clear signs of blunt force trauma.

Marine experts who examined the whale did not mention a possible cause to the media, since they were still collecting evidence. Nevertheless, POCNJ weighed in.

“Blaming all of the cetacean deaths on entanglements and ship strikes is reminiscent of the phenomenon four years ago in which seemingly every death was a COVID death, no matter how old or how sick the patient was prior to contracting the virus,” the group said, somewhat weirdly, in a statement cited by Associated Press in an April 12 report.

US Offshore Wind Industry Stalled Out By Lawmakers From 1920…

Writing for Scientific American on June 26, reporter Josh Axelrod provides additional background on the lethal impact of boat strikes and fishing gear on whale populations, as well as the impact of climate change on whale migration patterns, and the steps required of offshore wind developers to avoid disturbing whales and other aquatic life.

Meanwhile, back on the heels of World War I, US lawmakers passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. As the title indicates, the law established the Merchant Marine as an auxiliary to the US Navy. In addition, Section 27 of the law — commonly known as the Jones Act — stipulates certain requirements for ships carrying cargo between US ports. In order to ensure a robust and loyal domestic maritime industry in case of war, port-to-port ships must be built in the US, and owned and crewed by US citizens.

…Or Not

Between Congress and the US Customs and Border Patrol, the Jones Act has been modified, waived, or determined to be non-applicable many times since 1920. That includes a 1978 decision enabling foreign heavy-lift vessels to build oil and gas rigs in the waters of the US Outer Continental Shelf.

Between 2012 and 2013, though, CPB issued a series of rulings that rolled back the former OCS rule. Coincidentally or not, that was just around the time that the US offshore wind industry was beginning to gather momentum.

The matter is still being hashed out in court and in Congress. Despite the legal and legislative confusion, offshore wind stakeholders have been able to get “steel in the water,” partly by using US-flagged tugboats to ferry barges to offshore sites.

Meanwhile, the combination of Biden administration support for offshore wind development and tax credits under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act have motivated the US ship builders to to start building their own Jones-compliant service operations vessels (SOVs), to do the heavy lifting and other chores required to install offshore turbines.

The first such SOV was christened in May under the umbrella of the global offshore wind developer Ørsted and the Louisiana shipbuilder Edison Chouest Offshore. Others are in the pipeline as well.

If Ørsted rings a bell, that would be the same offshore developer that won a key tax break from New Jersey lawmakers for its Ocean Wind 1 and 2 projects last summer, only to cancel them abruptly just a few months later. Ørsted cited supply chain issues and inflationary pressures, along with an SOV-related delay impacting Ocean Wind 1.

Here Comes A WIV For The US Wind Industry

That issue now appears moot with the newly christened ECO Edison SOV setting sail. The decision to drop the New Jersey projects was an act of triage, and Ørsted can find a use for the ship in its other US projects.

In another positive development for US wind stakeholders, just last week the Danish firm Maersk Offshore Wind (a branch of A.P. Moller Holdings) provided an update on its new purpose-built Wind Installation Vessel (WIV). The new Maersk WIV is aimed at cutting the cost of offshore construction, by trimming the timeline down by almost about 30%.

The Maersk WIV works around the Jones Act, and similar restrictions in other nations, by permanently parking itself at an offshore wind site. Tugs and barges ferry the turbine components to the site from a nearby port.

If all goes according to plan, the US will get the very first Maersk WIV to roll off the shipping yard. The ship is being built in Singapore and Maersk expects delivery to Equinor’s Empire Offshore Wind project in New York next year.

An Offshore Wind Do-Over For New Jersey

As for New Jersey, the state has turned things around since being ditched by Ørsted. In the latest development, on July 2 the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management greenlighted the Atlantic Shores South Project, consisting of Atlantic Shores 1 and 2. The developer for both is Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, a  joint venture linking two A-listers in the energy industry, Shell New Energies US  and EDF-RE Offshore Development, a subsidiary of EDF Renewables North America.

“Together, Project 1 and Project 2 expected to generate up to 2,800 megawatts of electricity, enough to power close to one million homes with clean renewable energy,” BOEM noted.

“The Record of Decision (ROD) documents the decision to approve the construction of up to 195 wind turbine generators,” they added.

“Today’s announcement is the direct result of more than 5 years of stakeholder engagement and more than 40 environmental studies to safely and responsibly progress Atlantic Shores Project 1 and 2,” chipped in Jennifer Daniels, the Development Director for Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, in a press statement.

Fasten your seat belts and break out the popcorn. Stakeholder engagement or not, opposition groups in New Jersey and their allies in the fossil energy industry have been pushing back against Atlantic Shores for years and they are not likely to stop now.

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Image (cropped): More offshore wind turbines are coming to New Jersey and the US Atlantic coast, despite the complications of a century-old federal shipping law and pushback from fossil energy stakeholders (courtesy of EDF-RE).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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