Most of the world has only begun to tap into the potential of offshore wind as an abundant energy source. Higher wind speeds, coupled with more consistency, make offshore wind a reliable – and ultimately affordable – source of power. Being located near major coastal population centers that have significant energy demands makes offshore wind a huge opportunity for sustainable power as we plan for a net-zero future.
To deliver offshore wind farms, the U.S. offshore wind industry will require numerous port facilities of various types and sizes along the coast. With limited coastline areas available to support greenfield developments, we’ll need to explore reuse and repurposing existing ports.
These are exciting times for the U.S. offshore wind industry. New Jersey recently announced groundbreaking for construction of the massive New Jersey Wind Port, the first facility purpose-built for staging, assembly, and manufacturing activities related to offshore wind projects. This will be the first of many port facilities that will be required across the country to support the Biden administration’s goal of generating 30 GW of offshore wind power by 2030.
While the New Jersey Wind Port will support thousands of jobs and become an important part of the U.S. East Coast’s offshore wind supply chain, many more port facilities will be required to meet industry demands.
When it comes to assessing the suitability of an existing port to support the offshore wind industry, it is important to understand how these ports are going to be used and where they’ll ultimately fit in the supply chain.
There are generally three types of port facilities needed to support offshore wind farms:
The first — and perhaps the most attractive in terms of job creation and investment value — is the marshalling port. It’s primarily used to bring together the multitude of components needed for each offshore wind turbine, and pre-assembling some of those components onshore so they’re ready to be taken offshore for installation. Often these ports also have an area dedicated to stockpiling components (which may be brought in by land or sea). Given the large size of some components (like nacelles and foundations), these ports must be designed to withstand heavy loads — loads which typically far exceed the capacity of our existing ports. An example of a marshalling port is the recently announced Port of Virginia’s work with Dominion Energy to use part of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal as a staging and pre-assembly area for Dominion’s $8 billion wind energy project off the coast of Virginia Beach.
The second type of port is the manufacturing port, which ports are generally integrated with the manufacturing facility and facilitate transport of individual components to the marshalling port. Due to the size of the components being manufactured (such as the blades, which can be over 300 feet long!) the closer the berth is to the manufacturing facility, the easier it is for handling and shipping. Similar to the marshalling port, the manufacturing port also needs to accommodate heavy loading along the quayside. The size of the upland area and supporting infrastructure for the manufacturing facility will depend on the component being manufactured and the necessary storage area. New Jersey’s first offshore wind manufacturing facility is currently under construction at South Jersey Port Corporation’s (SJPC) Paulsboro Marine Terminal.
The third type of port is the operations and maintenance (O&M) port. This port requires the least amount of space and typically requires a much lower loading capacity (compared to marshalling or manufacturing ports). O&M ports serve as home base for the workboats that service the offshore wind turbines and sometimes include administration and associated storage facilities needed for turbine operations. In general, it’s more beneficial to have the O&M port sited as close as possible to the offshore wind turbines to minimize transit times; however, the type of operation being planned should also be taken into consideration. For instance, day-to-day operations and activities that require light equipment may benefit from short transit times, but for larger maintenance and overhaul operations requiring heavy equipment for an extended period offshore, the distance from the offshore wind farm may be less of a consideration. In some cases, the O&M port may be combined with the marshalling port, or perhaps part of the marshalling port may be converted into an O&M port after wind farm construction is complete.
When assessing a port for its suitability to support offshore wind facilities, it is important to also consider factors such as navigability, air draft restrictions, existing loading capacities, available upland space, distance to the wind farm, environmental considerations, availability of supporting infrastructure and transportation links and support from the local community and stakeholders.
As more offshore wind projects get off the ground, we must consider a more statewide, or even regional approach for siting and development of these supporting port facilities in order to maximize socio-economic benefits and minimize negative impacts. While we need huge investments to support this exciting and burgeoning industry, we must also make sure that the investments we make are sustainable and provide long-term, local community benefit well after offshore wind farm construction is complete. Although the US is still early in the development cycle, it’s never too early to think about how these ports might be repurposed or adapted in the future.
Jacobs has been involved with wind farm projects since the mid-1970s and actively assists our port clients with offshore wind projects. We provide cohesive end-to-end engineering solutions that cover every phase of wind farm development undertaking work for developers, constructors, operators and investors. We combine leading project delivery, technical, environmental and strategic consulting skills with an excellence in technology and facility management and a commitment to deliver sustainable solutions.
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