December 23rd, 2020 by Tina Casey
New Jersey is known for many things, and now you can add offshore wind to the list. The Garden State has nailed down the coveted position of monopile supplier to the US offshore wind industry, which will soon pepper the waters of the Atlantic coast with wind turbines, each sitting on its own monopile to anchor it firmly to the sea bed. If you’re thinking green jobs, hold on to your hats.
From Garden State To Offshore Wind Superhero
As a coastal state boundaried by the generous expanse of the Delaware River, New Jersey is primed to have its offshore wind cake and eat it, too. The idea is to build a wind turbine monopile manufacturing facility at an inland waterway with easy access to the Delaware, making it possible to transport the finished piles by seagoing watercraft.
That’s a huge, major, significant advantage over ground transportation, which is complicated and expensive due to the enormous size of wind turbine components, and they’re not getting any smaller.
The new facility will take shape at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal in Gloucester County, at Lower Alloways Creek off the Delaware River, where no bridges will interfere with the transportation route.
According to some ways of reckoning, the Paulsboro Marine Terminal is part of the Port of Philadelphia, but it looks like New Jersey is not in a mood to share bragging rights to the new monopile facility with Pennsylvania.
Among other benefits, access to ground transportation, supply chains and skilled labor is handy, risk of storm-related disruptions is lower than a coastal location would be, and the existing marine terminal provides a head start on permits and construction.
They’re not fooling around. Construction on the $250 million facility will start in January, which is right around the corner, bringing new construction jobs to the state at a time the nation is reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
For those of you keeping score at home, the new monopile facility will be an international affair spearheaded by EEW Group of Germany, known for its expertise in large-diameter steel pipes, along with the global offshore wind leader Ørsted as partner, which already has nine wind farms in the pipeline for the Atlantic coast.
The New Jersey Wind Port & Green Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
The new monopile facility is just for starters. It is the first step in a broader offshore wind manufacturing project called the New Jersey Wind Port. Announced last June, the Wind Port is billed as a first-of-its-kind infrastructure investment for the US, aimed at “solidifying New Jersey as the country’s leader in offshore wind and clean energy procurement,” with the anticipation of $500 million in new economic activity for the region and the state every year.
That’s quite a switcheroo for New Jersey, which hosts some of the nation’s most important fossil energy and petrochemical infrastructure. Former Governor Chris Christie slow-walked the state’s wind industry during his tenure, but now that’s all water under the bridge. Governor Phil Murphy took office in 2018 and has not let the grass grow under his feet.
Aside from jet-propelling the state’s offshore wind industry from zero to national leader, the Wind Port will become a model for green jobs with a green new deal-ish twist. New Jersey has pledged to put construction in the hands of union labor and raise the bar on inclusion of minorities and women, both as workers and as business owners.
As for the estimated 1,500 permanent jobs created at full build-out, that may involve expanding inclusion programs at the skilled trades level, especially in skills like welding and electrical work.
A Mighty Wind Blows From New Jersey
The difference between post- and pre-2018 New Jersey is a nifty demonstration of the idea that elections have consequences. For a coastal state without any coal, oil, or gas resources of its own, offshore wind represents a golden opportunity to shake off the antique fuels of the 20th century and dip a toe in the waters of new energy technology.
New Jersey did have a chance to lead the US offshore vanguard back in 2014, when a firm called Fisherman’s Energy won a $47 million Energy Department grant aimed at developing a 5-turbine wind farm with an experimental offshore turbine foundation. That would have been the very first offshore wind farm in the US, but the project was on-again, off-again during the Christie administration. Tiny Rhode Island ended up beating New Jersey to the offshore punch with the nation’s very first — and still only — offshore wind farm.
The delay was unfortunate for the Fisherman’s Energy project, which was considered obsolete by the time Governor Murphy took office on account of its modest size and proximity to shore. In December 2018 it was rejected by the state’s Board of Public Utilities and it hasn’t been heard from since.
Meanwhile, a quick look at New Jersey’s latest offshore wind plan indicates just how far, and how fast, the US wind industry can go in just a few short years.
In November of last year, New Jersey extended its offshore goal to 7.5 gigawatts by 2035. That’s a giant leap up from the 3.5 gigawatt goal established just one year earlier.
All else being equal, 7.5 gigawatts will be enough to fulfill more than 50% of the state’s electricity demand and bring it closer to meeting a clean energy goal of 100% by 2050.
That could happen sooner rather than later. Offshore wind technology is improving so quickly that wind developers are reworking construction plans on the fly to account for the next generation of bigger, more powerful wind turbines. Don’t be surprised if New Jersey and other coastal states ramp up their offshore wind ambitions in the coming years.
So, What About Floating Offshore Wind Turbines?
Circling back around to that thing about monopiles, if you’re wondering why New Jersey is so confident that a new monopile manufacturing facility is the way to go, that’s a good question.
Monopiles are the go-to method for fixing a wind turbine to the sea bed. That’s not technologically feasible in deep water, but the waters of the Atlantic coast are shallow enough to support monopile construction ’til the cows come home, or at least until the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management runs out of offshore lease areas to auction off.
Coastal states that lie on deeper waters are starting to take a look at floating offshore wind turbines, which are based on platforms anchored to the sea bed. Maine is one Atlantic coast state taking a good look at floating wind turbines, and floating wind interest is picking up among the Pacific Coast states as well.
Rounding out the US offshore wind picture are the five states ringing the Gulf of Mexico. Wind speeds in that region are less than optimal, but a recent Energy Department report funded by BOEM indicates that relatively shallow water, along with an existing offshore construction supply chain and skill set, could provide an economically feasible platform for Gulf states to dive into the offshore wind pool.
Louisiana has already grabbed the pole position on wind power in the Gulf, so keep an eye on that state for related developments in fields of green hydrogen and green ammonia, too.
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Photo (screenshot): Via New Jersey Wind Port.
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