The Dutch firm Ventolines has signed on as offshore wind expertise partner for Mayflower Wind, a huge offshore wind project starting 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and has opened its first permanent U.S. office in Boston. Windpower Engineering & Development connected with Thibaut de Groen, Ventolines’ director of contracting and construction, and Lorry Wagner, the firm’s new U.S. representative, to learn more about the company’s U.S. offshore plans.
What project aspects will Ventolines be performing for Mayflower Wind?
For Mayflower, Ventolines will provide T&I (transport and installation) expertise on the electrical offshore substation, the wind turbine foundations, the electrical cables to collect the energy and get it to shore, and the wind turbines themselves. Shell and Ocean Winds staff are in management positions – we are supporting them on technical matters.
What experience does Ventolines have to meet the challenge?
We supervised the installation of the five wind turbines off Block Island, Rhode Island, which was the first U.S. offshore wind farm. We also supported our client Deepwater Wind on grid connection, turbine takeover, and asset management.
We’ve done technical due diligence and helped negotiate turbine supply and service contracts for the Skipjack Wind Farm off the Maryland coast, developed by Ørsted; and South Fork Wind off New York’s Long Island, a partnership between Ørsted and Eversource.
In the Netherlands, we’re currently involved in 1,500 MW of major onshore wind projects, including the country’s largest, Windplan Groen (“Wind Plan Green”). And we have a lead role on all aspects, from early development to asset management, of the world’s largest freshwater offshore wind farm, Windpark Fryslân. There we have 89 turbines under construction right now for a total of 383 MW.
What are some of the main differences in offshore installation between the United States and Europe?
One of the main differences is that the Jones Act requires U.S.-flagged vessels to transport the components between ports and installation vessels at the project site. On the Block Island project, we used this method with Fred Olsen Windcarrier, which supplied its Brave Tern jack-up installation vessel from Europe.
It was a complex logistics challenge and one that required loading the towers and blades from one vessel to another on the high seas. To do that you have to manage the movement of materials and vessels while they are moving up and down in changing weather conditions, and without damaging the components during transfer. All while doing this safely and efficiently to avoid a standstill, which is extremely costly. However, since we have experience in the Netherlands using feeder barges to shuttle components from land to a single installation vessel, we are used to this.
What other lessons learned and takeaways from Block Island will make future U.S. offshore projects go more smoothly?
Block Island had a challenging blade installation schedule. Installation for two blades had to be done at a 30° angle from the horizontal, which is uncommon. Also, the wind speeds at low altitudes were sometimes higher than at hub height.
In the end, all the challenges were overcome and the project was installed successfully. Lorry Wagner came to see it with a delegation from the Icebreaker Wind project he was working on in Lake Erie. They were surprised that when they asked for a tour of the construction site, it had already been completed in half the time expected.
What logistical and supply chain challenges does the U.S. offshore wind market face?
In Europe there is already a trained workforce, a well-developed supply chain, port infrastructure, and installation vessels. That’s because we now have over 4,500 grid-connected offshore wind turbines across 11 countries, versus the seven offshore turbines in the U.S. as of today. Of course all of this lies ahead for the U.S., and as we build out the industry here, we’ll be assisting the development of these same capabilities.
We’ve faced many challenges in all phases of building an offshore wind farm. That includes understanding the interests of local stakeholders, governments and companies, as well as being able to properly address the problems of people who suffer indirect or direct nuisance. You have to determine the most suitable foundation for a wind turbine based on the site conditions in the ocean, and understand turbine contracts and be able to negotiate them.
As soon as you sign your signature on a contract, the balance of power shifts from employer to contractor – any further changes will cost money. We help ensure that everything is correctly spelled out.
This includes the power curve – the power the project will generate at the most common wind speeds in that area – and the availability – how often is the turbine ready to produce power? These are some of the most crucial features a developer negotiates with the turbine manufacturer so that they have the best warranty possible.
We also oversee the manufacturing of components at the factories in Europe, where many of these components will continue to be made. We perform our due diligence there before the equipment ever reaches the U.S.
What challenges did you face while providing technical support during turbine selection for the Skipjack and South Fork projects?
Ventolines led the turbine procurement for the developers. The most challenging aspect was to work with projects in a development phase where the position or number of turbines were not fixed, yet turbine components needed to be ordered and put into long-term storage (partly to qualify for U.S. tax credits). Everything is in flux until the permitting agencies say, “Here is what you can do.”
Another recurring challenge was to ensure compatibility of a newly announced turbine product with U.S. power systems and U.S. standards, whereas such products are typically designed for the EU market.
What lies ahead for the U.S. offshore wind industry?
The first project in federal waters just started generating power at the end of September — Dominion Energy’s pilot project with two turbines in Virginia. Now that the federal government has awarded 16 leases for offshore wind farms in seven states, we’ll see a rapid expansion and many companies getting involved.
These states have committed to developing 29 GW of offshore wind power, and the West Coast is considering its own plans. That compares to 18.5 GW offshore so far in Europe. So Mayflower Wind is just the start of what is possible.
In the Netherlands, very clear regulatory frameworks have been drawn up to which developers must adhere. We normally set up a participatory process in which the developers provide people with the best possible information and involve them in shaping the plan — for example, by thinking together about the integration of the wind or solar project into the landscape.
We hope to be able to use our experience on these kinds of topics and find common ground on the economic benefits of wind turbines to towns and workers, as well as the good it does for the environment and helping to slow climate change.