By KEVIN McGILL and JENNIFER McDERMOTT
HOUMA, La. (AP) — In Louisiana’s bayou country, where oil rig supply ships are as much a part of the shoreline as shrimp boats, a new breed of seagoing behemoth is taking shape that marks offshore wind energy’s growing presence in the energy seascape.
Louisiana shipbuilding giant Edison Chouest Offshore is building the 260-foot Eco Edison in the coastal community of Terrebonne along the Houma Navigation Canal. It is being built for Ørsted, a Danish company that builds and operates wind farms worldwide, and Eversource, a New England utility. Upon delivery next year, the vessel will serve as floating accommodation for US offshore wind engineers and storage for their tools while they operate and maintain wind farms in the Northeast.
Officials from the three companies gathered under the bow of the unfinished ship on Tuesday to acknowledge construction progress and acknowledge the offshore oil industry’s role in the development of offshore wind power. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, attended.
It has long been known that offshore oil companies have valuable offshore wind power expertise, such as how to service machines in a salty sea environment.
Differences between the Eco Edison and vessels built for offshore and deepwater rigs are not yet apparent, as the skin and bones of the towering vessel are taking shape in a 120-foot waterfront assembly building. But the differences are there, said Daryl Owen, a consultant on the project. Workers in protective gear operated computer-controlled machines to bend and weld sections of pipe and huge plates of steel. Owen stood near the stern of the development ship on Monday and pointed to the deck of a nearby oil industry supply ship.
“It’s all open deck space for cargo,” he said. “This ship won’t have that. It has a lot more living space for the workers.”
The load will also be different, Owen added. “This ship has special tanks everywhere below decks for special chemicals, liquids… The windmen don’t need any of that.”
While offshore oil rigs often serve as living quarters for the workers tending them, the Eco Edison will be the temporary home for about 60 workers who will move from turbine to turbine to perform maintenance.
Tuesday’s unveiling of work in progress comes almost a week after the Biden administration announced a wind power strategy that aims to provide 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
Countries around the world are expanding wind and solar power to shift away from burning coal, oil and methane gas that causes climate change.
But it also came days after House Republicans passed legislation to sharply increase domestic fossil fuel production and ease permit restrictions that are delaying pipelines, refineries and other projects.
Louisiana politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have criticized the government’s attempts to curb drilling. And oil and gas remains a major employer and engine of Louisiana’s economy. But they are also embracing the role of the state in helping the offshore wind industry get started.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards recently announced that Shell will invest $10 million in New Orleans-based Gulf Wind Technology for a project to develop turbine components designed to operate in the Gulf.
Wind turbines will not immediately sprout in Gulf waters. Though the Biden administration is considering the first-ever offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, there are challenges to overcome, including slower wind speeds.
But Gulf cities and companies are “a big part” of what will make the offshore wind industry successful, said David Hardy, CEO of the Ørsted Americas region. In turn, offshore wind developers are creating high-paying jobs in the Gulf and giving companies the opportunity to diversify to take advantage of the energy transition opportunities, he added.
Ørsted and Eversource say they are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast. More than 400 shipbuilders at Edison Chouest Offshore have worked on the Eco Edison to date. Portions of the ship were manufactured at ECO plants in Florida and Mississippi and shipped to Houma.
“People think about offshore wind and they think about jobs where the wind farms are. But the reality is that jobs are being created across the country,” Hardy said.
Due to centuries-old laws, only a qualified U.S.-flagged vessel may transport people and goods between U.S. ports. The Eco Edison is the first Jones Act sanctioned wind farm service vessel in the United States. In Texas, Dominion Energy is building the first offshore wind installation vessel in the US, the Charybdis. Ørsted and Eversource first signed up to charter it.
Jason Grumet, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, said the Gulf region is poised to become “the economic powerhouse” of the offshore wind industry because of its highly skilled energy workforce. Leading offshore developers are scrambling to invest billions of dollars to build a fleet of specialized vessels, he added.
When the Eco Edison is ready next year, it will go to Port Jefferson, New York, to power three proposed wind farms in the Northeast, South Fork Wind, Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind. Collectively, these projects are expected to generate approximately 1.7 gigawatts of offshore wind energy to power over one million homes.
McDermott reported from Providence, RI
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