At a virtual hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber hosted by U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, offshore wind experts gave testimony on the progress of the industry to date and what would benefit its ongoing development in America. Keating prefaced the hearing by describing offshore wind as a “burgeoning, clean, and job-creating energy industry.” Keating called the hearing an opportunity for learning and cooperation and noted America is positioned to establish offshore wind farms thanks to “monumental achievements” made by European pioneers, starting with a 1991 Danish farm, Europe’s first.
Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen testified that he has experience working on 15 offshore wind projects and that he’s seen offshore wind go from experimental stages to valuable and booming stages in Europe.
“In the mid 2000s offshore wind was an expensive niche technology in Europe, and now it’s the lowest cost, fastest expanding energy sector in much of Northern Europe. What we learned in those early days was that in order to drive down costs we needed to scale up the industry in terms of project size and technology while ensuring that bottlenecks were addressed early on to create predictability in project delivery. Boom-bust cycles would negatively affect the ability for companies to make long term investments in infrastructure assets, supply chain, and workforce. Scaling up is directly tied to technology and nowhere is this more evident than in offshore wind.”
Pedersen testified that wind turbine size has “increased by a factor of almost six in the past 15 years.”
Pedersen noted Vineyard Wind 1 will be constructed with the 13 megawatt General Electric GE Haliade-X turbines, 62 in total across the wind farm. Pedersen described these turbines as the largest that are commercially available. Overall he testified that Vineyard Wind 1 will be built using components from as many American manufacturers as possible.
As The Times previously reported, the 62 turbines will be situated 15 miles south of the Vineyard and will produce 800 megawatts of electricity. That electricity will be sent through two export cables buried under the Atlantic seafloor. The cables will pass through the Muskeget Channel, about a mile off Chappaquiddick, and stretch across Nantucket Sound to a landfall at Barnstable, where they will send electricity into the grid.
Pedersen noted part of scaling up means expanding the pool of available specialized workers. To that end, in what he called part of what is becoming America’s unique stamp on the industry, Pedersen pointed to the agreement recently forged between Vineyard Wind and the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council. That deal ensures the project draws from the local union labor pool, specifically stipulating that 51 percent of the workers who erect Vineyard Wind 1 must be drawn from Barnstable County, Bristol County, Dukes County, and Plymouth County.
“It will now set the benchmark for offshore building projects in the U.S.,” Pedersen testified.
Pedersen said state and federal lawmakers can best assist the American offshore wind industry by investing in ports, vessel development, electrical grids, and workforce development.
American Clean Energy Center CEO Heather Zikle told the committee America is on the cusp.
“The American offshore Wind industry is on the verge of becoming a substantial source of clean energy close to the largest population centers on the U.S. east and west coasts,” Zikle testified. However, she noted America’s offshore wind industry is playing “catch up” to Europe and Asia.
“At the end of 2020,” Zikle testified, “there were over 24,000 megawatts of installations in Europe and the UK — over 10,000 megawatts in Asia-Pacific. While there are just 42 megawatts of domestic offshore wind in operation today, the U.S. market has tremendous potential with over 14,000 megawatts of offshore wind currently in permitting and pre construction phases. In addition to creating jobs, to date offshore wind companies have proposed investing at least $2.9 billion across manufacturing, ports, vessels, workforce development, and research areas.”
Zikle testified that Congress could help fuel the industry’s growth by facilitating major investments in port infrastructure, by providing incentives for more of the components of turbines and other elements of wind farms being manufactured in America, and by generally facilitating sustainable supply chains.
Giles Dickson, CEO of Wind Europe, told the committee that offshore wind provides three percent of the electricity Europe consumes. Giles testified that Europe boasts 120 wind farms with 5,500 wind turbines overall that constitute 26 gigawatts of operational capacity. By 2030, that capacity is expected to reach 114 gigawatts, Giles testified.
While climate change is a driving factor for offshore wind, Giles noted that the economic draw of offshore wind is well recognized in public and private sectors. “It is now cheaper to build offshore wind in most of Europe than it is to build new coal, gas or nuclear power plants,” Giles testified.
The 77,000 jobs created by offshore wind in Europe presently is expected to reach 200,000 jobs by 2030, Giles testified. “Everytime we build an offshore wind turbine that generates on average $18 million of economic activity,” he testified.
The present average capacity of turbines is 8 megawatts, Giles testified, but by 2030 turbines with 15 megawatt capacity are anticipated.
Among the lessons learned in Europe, Giles testified, is that “maritime spatial planning” of great importance. “The 300 gigawatts that the EU wants by 2050 will take up seven percent of all of the EU’s sea space,” he testified. So it’s important that countries, in your case states, take a very long term approach to maritime spatial planning.”
In doing so, he testified to the importance of moving away from the silo approach to planning—”I mean the approach whereby you do fishing activity in a certain area, the shipping lanes are somewhere else, military activity is somewhere else, then environmental protection zones and energy in some other areas.
There is scope for multiple use of the sea space between the different economic and societal interests.” For example, Giles testified that “it is possible to fish inside offshore wind farms provided this is passive or pelagic surface fishing.” Giles testified that the fishing industry is consulted regarding the placement and layout of wind farms and sometimes the industry is given compensation as part of the mix.
Another example he gave was military cooperation. “We’re also striving for happy coexistence with military activity,” he testified. “On offshore wind turbines there are many sensors and cameras which are accumulating invaluable data and images. And some countries in Europe were exploring with the military authorities how we can share this data and images with them.”
At the close of the hearing, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, Keating said he found the testimony “extremely informative.”