Tide Is Rising for Offshore Wind: New ships, technology mean more projects for contractors

By Chuck Ross | Jun 14, 2024
offshore wind platform
Offshore wind’s fortunes have been floating on some turbulent seas the last year or so, with several large projects canceled or delayed and technology challenges forcing manufacturers to slow down their move to ever-larger turbines.




Offshore wind’s fortunes have been floating on some turbulent seas the last year or so, with several large projects canceled or delayed and technology challenges forcing manufacturers to slow down their move to ever-larger turbines. At the same time, electrons are flowing in increasing volume from installations completed or under construction off the coasts of New York and Massachusetts. Developers are staffing up to meet demand that’s only growing larger as work expands down the Atlantic coast. Opportunities are strong for electrical contractors willing to put in some time by learning the industry and getting employees certified for offshore work. Opportunities are only going to increase as geographies expand to the Gulf and West Coast.

Steady progress—mostly

New York and New England are currently the most active territories. The nation’s first commercial offshore wind project, Rhode Island’s Block Island Wind, has been supplying 30 megawatts (MW) of power to the state’s residents since December 2016. More recently, that project’s owner, Danish wind leader Orsted, and electric utility Eversource completed the 12-turbine, 130-MW South Fork Wind.

Off the Massachusetts coast, five of the 62 turbines planned for Vineyard Wind I began spinning in February. The initial 68 MW of power will grow to 806 MW by the end of 2024, when the project, co-developed by Avangrid and Copenhagen Investment Partners, is completed.

Farther south, the $10 billion, 2.6-gigawatt (GW) Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project began construction in May. Developer Dominion Energy, the local utility that will own the installation, is also building the first ship purpose-made for erecting wind turbines in the United States. The Charybdis, named for a mythical sea monster, will be the first ship able to carry turbine monopoles, blades and other equipment directly to offshore locations. Currently, only European installation vessels are available, and U.S. shipping regulations limit dependence on ships flying foreign flags. This means barges must be used to haul materials out to job sites for transfer to those vessels.

Of course, there also have been notable cancellations. In April, New York announced that three projects off its shores wouldn’t be going forward due to a move by its supplier to slow plans for a new, extremely large turbine design. In February, GE Vernova announced it was scrapping plans for an 18-MW turbine that would have been the world’s largest. The New York wind farms were planned with that platform in mind. The 15.5-MW replacement GE Vernova offered wouldn’t have met the developers’ financial goals, requiring more turbines—and associated cabling and other equipment—to hit production targets, forcing them to pull out of the deal.

Last year, several projects announced before the pandemic, resulting supply chain collapse and inflation were canceled because earlier cost assumptions no longer held true. However, several of those developers have been allowed to resubmit bids in subsequent auctions at a higher rate. Additionally, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island agreed to establish a regional wind-power purchasing market that could help spread costs across the three states.

Allison Ziogas, director of labor relations for Orsted Offshore in North America, said this first-of-its-kind agreement recognizes regional benefits in writing that had already been playing out in its own development efforts for South Fork Wind.

“Our cable was on-shored in Wainscott, N.Y., the turbine assembly marshaling activities happened at the State Pier Terminal in New London, Conn., and our advanced foundation component construction—all of those big concrete platforms and suspended internal platforms and switchgear that goes in that foundation—was all done in Providence, R.I.,” she said. “So, each state has things that make it attractive for offshore wind.”

Orsted is already participating in a two-state project, Revolution Wind, Ziogas added. This 100-turbine effort now under construction 15 miles south of Rhode Island, which will send 304 MW of power to Connecticut and 400 MW to Rhode Island, is a joint venture with Eversource. It’s expected to be fully operational in 2025.

Of course, in her role, Ziogas is most concerned with building the workforce needed to bring current and future projects into production. To illustrate the growing need, she outlined just some of the major electrical construction needed for another New York project, the 924-MW Sunrise Wind, requiring 95 turbines, 30 miles east of Long Island’s Montauk Point.

“It requires an 18-mile transmission line, plus an onshore converter station ... and it’s a $200 million contract, so [there will be] a huge demand for electrical professionals,” she said.

Also related to Sunrise Wind, Riggs Distler, Cherry Hill, N.J., is responsible for advanced foundation components and has announced it will be employing more than 100 local labor unions across several trades. Training for these positions will include apprenticeship and on-site training by the local unions.

Not all these jobs will require traveling offshore. As with the foundation construction, much of the electrical work will be done onshore.

“Offshore substations are largely built quayside and cold-­commissioned there,” Ziogas said. “We’ve tried to do about 90% of the work on land, and then the substation is floated or towed to the offshore installation site where a very large, heavy-lift vessel is prepared to pick it and set in place.”

Certainly, labor demands will remain high over the next several decades or longer as more installations begin taking shape along the East Coast and new regions open for development elsewhere. But these projects also have ongoing needs once kilowatts start flowing back to shore.

“For operations and maintenance, we will have a 25-year need for a lot of technicians,” Ziogas said. “Most of their day is spent conducting various tests to make sure the wind turbine generator is functioning properly, doing fault-finding, doing any kind of resets after trouble, changing hydraulic fluids—akin to very much the same work that’s required for onshore wind.”

One company’s experience

Vicki Chapman, founder and president of Chapman Construction Group Inc. (CCGI) has built her business on high-value onshore electrical work and has begun expanding it into offshore wind efforts. CCGI might be located in the relatively sleepy community of Sandwich, Mass., on the resort destination of Cape Cod, but since 2002, Chapman has pursued large-value, public-works jobs with transit authorities, wastewater systems and airports.

Her company is often called on as a subcontractor when larger organizations bid on projects requiring women-owned businesses. She started pursuing offshore wind work a couple years ago, as developers were planning Vineyard Wind, now under construction about 35 miles off the Cape Cod coast.

CCGI signed on as a labor consultant and subcontractor on the project’s electrical service platform, which includes the wind farm’s substation. The 3,200-ton platform was assembled in Denmark and shipped to its installation site.

Because of the tight quarters and unique working conditions involved in CCGI’s contract—crews spend two weeks at a time on the platform, working seven days a week, 12 hours per day—a unique project labor agreement allows the company to employ a multiskilled union workforce that includes iron workers, carpenters, painters and laborers, along with electricians.

Under the labor agreement, workers aren’t restricted to their own trades—instead they work as a team, helping each other out on what is needed. So, if a painter needs extra help, a carpenter can pitch in, or a metal worker could lend a hand pulling wire. Crews are transported to the site from a port terminal in New Bedford, Mass., and live in ship’s quarters while there.

“It’s all about accessibility—it’s 25 miles offshore,” Chapman said, citing the uncommon working arrangements. “It takes eight hours to get out there. It’s a whole new world out there. There’s a lot of work that’s not electrical—that’s why we hire all the other trades.”

Because of the dangerous conditions, workers must meet some requirements they likely haven’t encountered in onshore work. The first of these is passing a specific exam called the Offshore Energy UK physical. Developed in the United Kingdom for offshore workers, it helps ensure workers are healthy enough to participate in further training and, past that, to work in harsh offshore conditions.

“It’s a pretty stringent physical, and most Americans don’t quite pass,” Chapman said. “Some people have obesity issues. And if you’re on medications, they have to recheck you every six months.”

Additionally, platform workers also must earn several training­-based certifications, including:

  • Global Wind Organization training, which includes modules on working at height, sea survival, first aid, crane and hoist operation, and fire awareness.
  • Helicopter underwater escape training, to learn how to get out of a transport helicopter that has become submerged after a crash.
  • Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians certification, to learn safe rope techniques when working at height.

As an employer, Chapman also must deal with the fact the work is seasonal. Weather conditions limit the work to an April through November schedule. But she said she still has been able to find workers when she’s needed them.

“I think there are plenty of people willing to go offshore—everyone who’s worked for us in the past has agreed to work for us again. I just need to keep the projects going,” she said.

Noting that, she’s hoping the work she put in to get this first substation project will pay off in future contracts.

“It’s a learning experience and, with us being a smaller business, we’re getting to work on projects I’d never thought we’d get a chance to work on,” she said. “I feel like we’ve worked the bugs out of it, and I’d do it again.” / DJ / Sanych / twixter

About The Author

ROSS has covered building and energy technologies and electric-utility business issues for more than 25 years. Contact him at [email protected].






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