Think bigger.

That was the message to the largest turnout yet of the leading annual gathering of global offshore wind energy professionals late last month in Baltimore— delivered to an estimated 4,000 attendees at the Business Network for Offshore Wind's partnering forum as the US industry struggles to move the 40 projects in development past their current permitting, financial, labor and supply chain hurdles.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of 30 GW of offshore wind operating in the US by 2030 as a key plank of his climate change mitigation strategy.

"We are rightfully counting our accomplishments one by one but now we must start planning big,“ said Liz Burdock, founder and CEO of the non-profit advocacy group for the sector and its supply chain at ita tenth conference March 28-30 that drew attendees and exhibitors from across the U.S. and overseas and from its current 600-member roster. “We need to turn our attention toward 110 GW in 2050," she said, referring to the administration's future wind power goal, "and plan for an industry we know is going to happen.”

Noting pressing challenges in scaling up work, with two utility sized ventures now under construction in Massachusetts and New York and possibly set to start operating this year, Burdock called for "big ideas and bigger solutions" to address supply chain breadth and stability, a limited trained workforce, project economics hit by recent inflation and a need to standardize without quashing technology innovation.

One developer CEO also commented on the sector's latest controversy, that ocean studies and operations are responsible for a recent spurt of whale deaths in some East Coat spots. Citing comment from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and others to the contrary, "we know this is not a real issue, it's the latest topic for opponents and we should call that out," said Jeffrey Grybowski, US Wind CEO and former chief of the firm that developed the country's first operating wind farm—the 15-MW Block Island project off Rhode Island in 2016. He said more project completion "will make these issues go away. We saw it happen in Rhode Island."

An agency spokesperson said it " will also continue to explore how sound, vessel, and other human activities in the marine environment impact whales and other marine mammals.”

'Responsible Permit Progress'

Current state offshore wind deployment goals now stand at 77 GW. Citing that total, White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi touted passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, with at least $15 billion earmarked for offshore wind investment and an administration target of 16 federal project reviews completed by 2027.

"We are fully invested to deliver responsible permit progress," he said.

Funding from the law and other recent infrastructure legislation will also enable needed port expansion and supporting manufacturing, as well as investments in critical offshore wind transmission connections, Zaidi said. He added that a federal-state partnership program that now includes 13 state governors will support building a broad supply chain program.

"The offshore wind business has its share of headwinds, but also tailwinds," Zaidi said. "If we succeed, there will be steel mills turning out steel for projects."

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a newly elected Democrat, helped move that needle forward in telling attendees that the state proposes to expand its offshore wind goal from 1.6GW to 8.5GW by 2031—a target dependent on expanded federal lease areas off its coast, passage of a pending bill in the legislature and completed U.S. Dept. of Interior review of three awarded projects in the state.

He noted investments by developers Orsted and U.S. Wind in union-scale turbine component manufacturing and assembly in the state, including $150 million from the latter to redevelop the former Sparrows Point steel plant in Baltimore. But the projects have faced strong pushback from coastal towns and conservative opponents, complicating transmission cable landing options.

"The target is ambitious but achievable," Moore said. "It will keep the Maryland economy competitive and the climate change stakes could not be higher."

The US Dept. of Energy also released a new strategy on March 29 to boost use of agency resources to accelerate work and reduce cost of fixed-bottom offshore wind generation to $51 per MWh by 2030 from $73 per MWh in 2021. The department's focus will be on optimized design of turbines and manufacturing plants. DOE also seeks to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind energy, needed in deep water off the Pacific coast and Maine particularly, to $45 per MWh by 2035 from its current $150 per MWh cost.

Noting that two-thirds of US offshore wind resources are in deep water, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told attendees that America “could be the first to truly realize its potential.”

'Real Investment'

US Wind's Grybowski said conference attendance this year indicates that "the entire global supply chain recognizes us as an advancing market and is making some real investment."

But he emphasized that “the way you get to lower costs is to build projects and get to scale.” He was addressing state concerns that have emerged from recent moves by projects in Massachusetts to renegotiate power supply price agreements in the wake of recent inflation-driven construction cost increases.

“The states understand that they should no longer be pushing for very aggressive declining cost curves because it's not really sustainable for the industry,” he told sector publication Recharge .

Grybowski also expressed concern over details in still developing regulations under the IRA law that may be "too aggressive" in domestic content mandates for components. Amanda Dasch, Shell offshore wind vice president, stressed need for government "clarity" in the fine print on transmission cost allocation and interconnection, since it represents "one third of the capital we invest."

Doreen Harris, CEO of New York state energy regulating agency NYSERDA, described the law as "an historic game changer" that helped generate about 100 bids for the state's latest offshore wind solicitation. "But we also recognize the importance of IRA clarity on local content,” she said.

Despite efforts underway to detangle federal project permitting and add resources, Clint Plummer, CEO of wind developer Rise Power & Light, also pointed to tougher complexities gaining state and local approvals for grid connection infrastructure. "Almost every project has had significant delays and costs," he said.

Local entities “have disproportionate power to delay or even kill projects," Plummer said, citing need for better "on the ground" industry engagement.

"We talk about grandiose potential but we need change to get the first projects built," said David Hardy, CEO of Orsted North America.

More Upfront Study

But Teddy Muhlfelder, vice president of developer Equinor's U.S. renewables business who leads its three awarded New York offshore wind projects totaling 3.3 GW, stressed the financial impacts of project delays in lost revenue. Noting that projects are more logistically than technically complex, he also said that "a lot of" studies need to be done earlier in a project schedule, representing "significant tens of millions of dollars of early investment."

But the data gathering investment has paid off in "minimizing risk and the amount of contingency," Muhlfelder said. "We learned the hard way. There's no cheap way to do it and it takes a step change at the senior levels of an organization, but in the long run, it's better for everyone." He noted, however, the challenge of "getting lenders to be comfortable with the risk picture."

While Orsted's Hardy foresees the sector generating 100,000 direct jobs, workforce development was a key conference theme and topic of a separate half-day strategy "summit." Tony Appleton, offshore wind director at design-builder Burns & McDonnell, told attendees that the firm "can't get enough engineers," a shortage that constrains its growth in the market.

A panel of women professionals noted lingering cultural hurdles in access to what can be physically demanding sector jobs and sustained career paths. "We have challenges of unconscious bias,” said Helen Stewart, a hydrographer at Fugro.

“These are real issues," said Karen Hart, a hydrographic survey specialist who is geospatial program director at Woolpert on maritime projects and the consultant’s only woman senior manager. "We need to speak up. I wish I had done this more than 20 years ago.”

Stewart encouraged attendees to boost senior management attention to diversity issues as the offshore wind labor force scales up and to use professional society activism “as a mouthpiece."