By Rich Heidorn Jr.
NEW YORK — With 30 MW installed, the U.S. has barely dipped its toes into offshore wind. Europe, which has been harvesting its ocean breezes since the 1990s, has 18 GW.
But based on the Scandinavian, German and British accents at the Grand Hyatt in New York this week, a lot of people in the European OSW industry believe the waters off New England and the Mid-Atlantic states are the next big thing.
More than 1,100 attendees crammed into the Hyatt’s ballroom next to Grand Central Station for the Business Network for Offshore Wind’s 2019 International Partnering Forum — double last year’s attendance, according to the group’s CEO Liz Burdock.
The excitement is largely based on pledges by New York and Maryland since January that have boosted the East Coast’s planned OSW pipeline to almost 18 GW from 10 GW in 2018.
“In our view, the Northeast U.S. is the most attractive opportunity for the expansion of offshore wind outside of Europe,” said Sunny Gupta, head of new market development for Danish-owned Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind.
Gupta recalled that at his first meeting with the fledgling business network about eight years ago, no more than 40 or 50 people were in attendance. “Here we are today with IPF 2019 — four years straight sold out — in a big fancy hotel in midtown Manhattan,” he marveled. “Not many people get to say they helped create an industry, so this is indeed a very unique moment in all of our lives.”
“It feels good to say it’s no longer a question of when offshore wind will ever come to the U.S.,” agreed Gupta’s boss, Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind CEO Thomas Brostrøm. “Because now it is here, and I think the question is more: How much potential do we actually see? How big can this industry become?”
Eric Thumma, director of policy and regulatory affairs for Avangrid Renewables said the IPF conference reminded him of his introduction to land-based wind power in Los Angeles in 2007. The U.S. has since grown from less than 17 GW to more than 96 GW of land-based wind, he noted. (See AWEA: Another Record-Breaking Year for Wind Industry.)
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo jolted the market in January by proposing the state nearly quadruple its offshore wind energy goal to 9 GW by 2035. (See New York Boosts Zero-carbon, Renewable Goals.)
Richard Kauffman, chair of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said the response his agency received to its first, 800-MW solicitation for offshore wind is proof the industry is taking the U.S. market seriously. Four groups of companies entered 18 bids; NYSERDA is expected to announce the winners in about a month. (See Four Bidders Vie for NY Offshore Wind Project.)
“Offshore wind on the East Coast of the U.S. has gone from being a distant dream to a huge market opportunity,” Kauffman said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the Board of Public Utilities will announce the results of its 1,100-MW solicitation by the end of June.
“We have a lot of lost time to make up,” said Murphy, a Democrat who revived the state’s OSW plans after taking office in 2018. Murphy replaced Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who had not supported the initiative.
Murphy noted the state issued its OSW plan in 2010. “But for seven-and-a-half years that plan sat on a shelf collecting dust. That was just one of many oversights by the prior administration that stymied our progress as a state.”
Also adding to momentum was the Maryland legislature’s April 8 approval of a bill (SB 516) that boosted the state’s offshore wind target to 1,200 MW by 2030, up from 366 MW.
Burdock said the pressure is now on the industry to show it can execute the development plans on schedule. Some 1,800 MW is targeted to be built and operating by 2023.
“So, we are under [a] severely compressed timeframe,” she said. “That is one of the reasons why I stay awake at night. The one thing I worry about is supply chain capacity. Do we have enough businesses?”
Lessons from Europe
How much the U.S. could, or should, take from Europe’s experience was a recurring theme at the conference.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which oversees OSW development in federal waters, met with counterparts from nine countries this week to share experiences and best practices. BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank said it was the first of what will be an annual forum of global OSW regulators.
Gil Quiniones, CEO of the New York Power Authority, said the U.S. will be looking to the Europeans for guidance for the foreseeable future. While New York hopes to have 9 GW of OSW by 2035, Europe is expected to expand from its current 18 GW to 60 GW by 2027. “So, we are going to learn a lot from the Europeans as this journey happens,” he said.
“The U.S. can learn a lot from the U.K. experience in particular,” said Ørsted’s Gupta. “The U.K. was not the original wind market in Europe, but it quickly became the largest player, and governments made significant investments knowing that is what it would take to attract [a] supply chain. The result of that has been an achievement of significant local content [production] in the U.K. — not only for their own projects but now they’re exporting that technology to other European countries and indeed to emerging markets.”
Gupta said the takeaway is “Don’t do it small. And focus on what you’re good at.”
Still, he acknowledged some lessons won’t translate. “The U.S. is very different … [from] state and federal permitting to the way transmission works, the way the energy market works in general here, there’s only so much you can draw from the European experience.”
Sven Utermöhlen, a board member for E.ON Climate & Renewables GmbH, said there is no one model to follow. “I think you really have to cater it to the specific situation in terms of coastline, number of suitable connection points, number of windfarms and geographical situations.”