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How to build a wind farm in the USA: 3 solutions available to developers

With US wind set for a boom period – in line with global trends – Spinergie analysts have outlined three methods in which developers can build their wind farms despite the constraints of the Jones Act on vessels.

The US wind market is set for a boom period. Already, two wind farms are under construction - South Fork and Vineyard Wind 1 - both off the northeast coast and set for commissioning in 2024. Looking towards the future, the US has an official target of 30 GW by 2030, with Spinergie estimating 19.5 GW will be reached by then. In addition, a recent licensing round in California and upcoming licensing in the Gulf of Mexico means that more infrastructure and vessel capacity will be required over a wider area. This comes at a time when US developers are already working around the dual complexities of the global supply chain and the Jones Act - the latter of which is our focus here.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (known as the Jones Act) is a US federal law that regulates maritime commerce. The law states that vessels which transport merchandise or people between two US points must be US-built and flagged, majority owned by US entities and crewed/operated by US citizens and permanent residents. With the framework of the law evolving regularly, it was confirmed in the Garamendi Amendment of January 2021, that the Jones Act applies to “non-mineral energy resources” including offshore wind. This is due to wind turbines and substations installed on the US OCS being considered US points. Therefore, the transport of components from a US port to a wind farm site is considered a trip between two US points and so falls under the restrictions of the Jones Act.  

As it stands, the US does not have sufficient vessel capacity or infrastructure to support wind development on a wider scale. Therefore, developers must be creative in planning their projects. Here, Spinergie outlines three solutions US wind farm developers have to build their bottom-fixed offshore wind farms.

Solution 1: Use a Jones Act-compliant vessel 

The first solution is to comply with the restrictions of the Jones Act by only using installation vessels that meet the conditions for conventional wind farm construction. Currently, however, there are no wind installation vessels that comply with the Jones Act. 

The first such vessel, Dominion Energy’s Charybdis (WTIV) is under construction and expected to be delivered in 2024. In line with growing demand, the vessel is already booked up for its maiden charter at the Orsted/Eversource JV project, Revolution Wind. This will be followed by operations at Sunset Wind for the same development JV. 

There remains a lack of Jones Act-compliant conventional WTIV’s in the pipeline and it is important to note that the development and construction of WTIVs is costly for companies. As the market saw, this can affect plans which are already well-developed after construction player Eneti cancelled its order of a Jones Act-compliant WTIV for budgetary reasons in February 2022. 

An additional WTIV concept has been presented by Bleutec Industries, however, which it calls a Binary Marine Installation Solution, with claims it will be a lower cost and more efficient while also being Jones Act compliant. Bleutec intends the concept as an alternative to conventional - and expensive - installation vessels. It comprises a Pile Installation Vessel (PIV), Wind Turbine Installation Vessel Light (WTIVL) and SOVs and Bleutec states it will install turbines of up to 22 MW.   

Solution Two: Use a non-US port as a logistics base

As the crux of the Jones Act is the requirement for vessels to be operational between two US points, developers can look towards developing their logistics ports outside of the US in order to circumvent it. In 2020, this solution was used for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Demo wind farm which was built using Halifax, Canada, as its logistics base. 

This method also has its drawbacks, as it requires longer transit times and therefore lengthens the duration of the installation campaign. Despite this, however, developers are already seeing it as a viable solution in wind farm installation project management. This idea is reinforced by yet another port, Argentia being awarded two major contracts involving marshaling work for wind farms off the East Coast of the US. 

In preparation for these contracts, Argentia continues to upgrade its facilities including additional road widening, maintenance of current infrastructure and the creation of three acres of new laydown lands adjacent to docking facilities to bring the total quayside laydown over 12 acres. These upgrades cost in excess of $10 million and other ports considered for use as logistics bases will likely also require significant investment as wind farm technologies trend bigger overall. 

Another point to consider is that while this is a viable solution for the influx of developments on the east coast of the US for now, opportunities are yet to emerge elsewhere in the US, such as California or the Gulf of Mexico.

Solution Three: The Feeder Vessel Method

The feeder vessel method aims to transfer components using Jones Act barges towed by Jones Act tugs to the main installation vessel which is based offshore. The feeder method is already being utilized on heavy-lift floaters for installing foundations but it has so far only been used once for turbines: at Arcadis Ost 1, offshore Germany, using Heerema’s Thialf. Completed in late 2022, the method, dubbed Rotor Nacelle Assembly, entailed Thialf being fed wind turbine components by barge and AHTS from the nearby port of Ronne. 

The feeder method has two key benefits including allowing the heavy-lift vessel to remain positioned close to the wind farm, and thus minimize transit time, and is also best suited for when a heavy-lift is unable to access a port and needs to be fed offshore. The ongoing Vineyard Wind project will use the feeder method. FOSS Maritime feeder barges equipped with a heave-compensated platform will be utilized in the build. They ease the offshore lift from the feeder barge to the heavy lift. The two heavy lift vessels to be used are non-Jones Act compliant. 

This method is largely used for jacket installation as their transportation is more convenient when using barges. However, observed campaigns using the feeder method for monopile installations tend to be slightly less efficient, with an average duration of 1.96 days per installation compared to 1.61 days using the conventional method. 

In the near future, innovative vessel designs will make the feeder method suitable for WTIVs. Examples of upcoming feeder method vessels include Harren & Partner’s Feederdock, a U-Shaped WTIV that can accommodate a barge carrying components to act as an “offshore port” and COSCO’s WTIV, designed by Friede & Goldman (F&G) which is also under discussion. 

Maersk Supply Service has also developed a feeder-based WTIV for use in the Jones Act offshore wind market but is further along than its peers. The company has now signed two preferred supplier agreements for its Sturgeon WTIV - for use at Empire Wind and Beacon Wind, both Equinor and BP joint ventures. They state the feeder method design of the unit is expected to be over 30% more efficient than conventional jackup installation vessels and less weather dependent. The vessel is expected to be delivered in 2025. 

Photo: Maersk Supply Service

To conclude, while the Jones Act does pose challenges to wind farm developers as the market tightens, there are three key methods that provide viable solutions. As the US wind market matures it is hoped that more purpose-built WTIVs will enter the fleet, particularly Jones Act-compliant vessels. That said, further options such as using neighboring countries' infrastructure as logistics bases or utilizing upcoming innovation feeder-method concepts are also available. 

The Jones Act is not the only pain point US developers must navigate in planning their offshore wind projects. The supply chain, grid connection and lack of workforce must all be considered with further investment and development required throughout this burgeoning sector of offshore wind. 

Read more about the global challenges facing offshore wind developers.

Photo of Sarah McLean
Sarah McLean
Marketing Content Writer
Published on
May 4, 2023
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