Southern Jobs for Offshore Wind Energy

Guest Blog | October 13, 2011 | Energy Policy, Wind

This week, Simon Mahan is attending the American Wind Energy Association/Offshore Wind Development Coalition’s conference on offshore wind energy in Baltimore, Md. This is the first of a series of three blogs from the conference.

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I’m attending the American Wind Energy Association/Offshore Wind Development Coalition’s Offshore Wind Expo this week. As you may recall, I blogged about this event when it was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey last year.

Today, I’ve mostly attended presentations on offshore wind turbine manufacturing and supply chains. The discussions have tended toward a conclusion that without many planned offshore wind projects, manufacturing and shipbuilding would not occur. Nevertheless, some evidence is available that flies in the face of this seemingly foregone conclusion. Already several U.S. companies have provided their expertise to the global offshore wind industry, and several more companies are building new manufacturing – without a clear market demand, and mostly here in the South.

Perhaps the gem of the offshore wind industry here in the South is Clemson University’s new drive-train test facility in Charleston, South Carolina. The $98 million drive-train test facility is the biggest single investment in the Palmetto State’s history, and has proven to be a magnet for manufacturers of offshore wind turbine. IMO USA, a German-based company that manufactures slew rings for wind turbines, built its manufacturing plant near the Clemson facility. The $47 million IMO facility employs approximately 190 workers.

Wind turbines are connected to the ocean floor and can be done so using different foundation technologies. Many offshore foundation technologies, such as the tripod foundation, have been utilized in the offshore oil and gas industries, as well. A Texas company, Offshore Wind Power Systems of Texas, recently announced that it would be providing foundations for an offshore wind energy project in Brazil.

Offshore wind turbine blades can be significantly longer than onshore wind turbine blades and require specialty manufacturing. Last year, Blade Dynamics, a wind turbine blade manufacturer, announced it would be building a new blade manufacturing facility specifically for the offshore wind industry. The facility is located in New Orleans, Louisiana. At present Blade Dynamics is planning on selling their blades primarily to the European market.

After the turbines are manufactured, offshore wind installation vessels place the turbines in the ocean. The specialty vessels are similar to vessels used in the offshore oil and gas industries, but several ships have been built with wind energy specifically in mind. A Danish company, Knud E. Hansen USA L.L.C., recently opened shop in Florida with the capability of designing these specialty ships. However, the US has already built these specialty ships before. Take for example the KS Titan II. This specialty-built vessel has helped install several wind farms off the UK coast. The KS Titan II was the second specialty offshore wind installation vessel built in Louisiana by SEMCO LLC. The vessel flies a Singaporean flag and operates in the UK waters.

Turbines are connected onshore via sub-sea electric cables. Those cables have to be manufactured by specialty companies and installed by specialized vessels. Prysmian Power Cables is located in South Carolina and manufactures transmission and distribution cables to the electric power industry, including sub-sea cables. ABB Cable, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, also develops AC and DC export cables for offshore wind farms and offshore electrical substations. Trico Marine, a Texas-based company, has been selected to install sub-sea cables for offshore wind farms in the European market.

These are just a few of the companies already operating in the offshore wind energy industry, even though there hasn’t been a single offshore wind turbine installed here in the U.S. I can’t help but note that all the companies listed above are here in the South. Just imagine how many jobs could be created in our region if our country stepped up to the plate and supported strong national policies to promote offshore wind energy. One such measure is currently making its way through the U.S. Senate. The Incentivizing Offshore Wind Act (S. 1397) is a bi-partisan piece of legislation that, if passed, will help incentivize offshore wind and provide a stable policy to promote offshore wind. Contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to co-sponsor this important piece of job-creating legislation to help support robust wind energy manufacturing and generation in our region.

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