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A Change in the Tide: Is Offshore Wind Finally Ready to Take Center Stage and Live Up to the Hype?

January 21, 2021 Andy Marzo

Offshore wind energy development along the Atlantic Coast of the United States is at a critical juncture. After decades of planning, development, and investment; states from Maine to Florida are setting ambitious offshore wind energy production goals while also racing to develop the strategic vision, economic incentives, workforce development strategies, infrastructure, and innovative solutions that will competitively position them to leverage offshore wind for decades to come.

Recent momentum and focus on offshore wind development has been driven by a range of different factors. Some of the most prominent include a renewed urgency and focus on alternative energy production driven by climate change, enhanced collaboration and investment in infrastructure by the public and private sectors, advancement in offshore wind technology, and the realization that as the offshore wind industry develops so too will opportunities to create meaningful jobs that will accompany the industry as it evolves and matures.

Camoin 310 has had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of clients who are focused on offshore wind industry and workforce development, in addition to gaining a better understanding of the fiscal and economic impacts of port, real estate, and infrastructure investment related to offshore wind. The following article provides a glimpse into some of the crucial competitive considerations that will impact industry, workforce, and infrastructure development in various states for decades to come.

Competitive Considerations in Offshore Wind

Policy Goals and Objectives

In recent years, a number of states have made major policy announcements related to offshore wind energy production as they look to diversify energy production away from fossil fuels, conform to changing consumer preferences focused on alternative energy technologies that can help combat climate change, and look to signal to developers and investors that they are serious about growing the industry in their state and region. The states of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut have all announced direct policy goals aimed at their future production of offshore wind energy, with the most ambitious goals coming from New York (9,000 MW by 2035) and New Jersey (7,500 MW by 2035).

Project Activity and Wind Capacity 

Project activity and capacity primarily focus on the number of offshore wind energy projects and/or permits off of the immediate coasts of each state, in addition to the amount of energy in each state’s potential production pipeline. From a locational standpoint, offshore wind developers and industry stakeholders will likely continue to increase their footprint in states that have ports and other infrastructure that allow easy accessibility to existing and future projects, in addition to business, utility, and transportation infrastructure that support industry operations.

In addition to locational considerations, the energy capacity in each state’s offshore wind pipeline (both realized and unrealized) is also important as it signals the potential of existing and future energy offtake agreements with developers. Finally, the development stage that the capacity is in (planning, permitting, financial close, under construction, installed, etc.) is also important as it reflects the maturity of the projects that are located off of each state’s coast, and their readiness to deliver energy to consumers.

Public and Private Infrastructure Investment

The highest amount of direct public/private investment in offshore wind to date has focused on infrastructure development, setting the stage for future industry growth. Investment has primarily been driven by direct state investment or public/private investment via supplemental agreements between states and offshore wind energy developers that sometimes accompany or precede energy offtake agreements. These investments have been primarily focused on upgrading, enhancing, and developing existing port infrastructure and adjacent real estate to support future offshore wind operations and industry activity.

Many large investments have been made possible through a creative, collaborative mix of public, quasi-public, and private investment such as the project developed to enhance the Port of Davisville in Rhode Island in 2016. Investment in this case came in the form of a diverse capital stack that included a $50 million-dollar general obligation bond issued by the State of Rhode Island, a $15 million-dollar appropriation from the State’s capital planning fund, a $25 million-dollar revenue bond to be repaid by the Quonset Development Corporation and port users, and other private grants. Examples of ports and/or developments that have or have been committed to receive infrastructure and other investment in connection with offshore wind include the following:

  • The Port of New Bedford (Mass)
  • The Port of New London, State Pier, and Barnum Landing Development (CT)
  • The Ports of Providence and Davisville (RI)
  • The Port of Virginia (VA)
  • The Port of Baltimore (MD)
  • The Port of Albany (NY) and the Port of New York/New Jersey (NY/NJ)

Workforce Training and Education Programming

Workforce training and education programs focused on wind energy generation vary throughout each state but align in regard to their overall focus on preparing individuals for potential career pathways in the wind energy industry. Focuses generally include academic programming at colleges and/or universities typically including either individual academic course offerings with a focus on wind power generation, entire degree programs dedicated to a major in a field solely related to wind energy generation, or in the case of Rhode Island’s WindWinRI program, courses that begin in middle and high school to get students interested in offshore wind early on. In addition, many institutions and training centers offer certificate and training programs dedicated specifically to training individuals to enter into occupations related to wind energy generation.

One example of significant investment in offshore wind workforce development came in the State of New York’s 2021 State of the State address, where Governor Cuomo announced that the State University of New York (SUNY) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) launched New York’s Offshore Wind Training Institute (OWTI) to train 2,500 workers as part of the largest public investment in offshore wind workforce development by any state in the U.S. Through a partnership between SUNY’s Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook University on Long Island, the $20 million investment in the state’s new training institute will aim to advance offshore wind training programs and educational infrastructure needed to establish a skilled workforce that can support the emerging national offshore wind industry. The announcement came along with other investments and industry activity in New York, including the announcement that the first offshore wind tower manufacturing facility in the U.S. is set to be constructed in the Port of Albany, NY leading to 500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs for highly skilled workers. The facility is anticipated to produce 150 offshore wind towers annually.

The Future of Offshore Wind Looks Bright

Overall, with such a significant renewed focus on offshore wind development in states along the Atlantic Coast from a policy, workforce, industry, and infrastructure investment standpoint – the future seems bright for offshore wind. With this in mind, it will be crucial that public and private organizations work together to strategically develop regional, collaborative, and comprehensive initiatives that will provide the foundation for an industry that offers so much future promise from a green energy and economic perspective. This strategic approach, coupled with a renewed federal focus on alternative energy development and production will hopefully provide the wind that will power the offshore wind industry’s sails for decades to come.

Image Source: Unsplash.com