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  June 20th, 2024 | Written by

Critical Vessel Shortage Delays Offshore Wind Farms 

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The development of a robust, offshore wind energy sector has been a long-standing Biden Administration objective. Yet, a vessel named after a mythical sea creature is frustrating construction efforts. The Charybdis vessel is slated to be the key to providing manufacturers with the parts they need at sea to construct massive, ocean-based windmills. A critical challenge in building offshore wind energy farms is the transportation of extremely large turbine parts from ports into the sea. The Charybdis was slated to be operational but construction on the vessel is running both over budget and behind schedule.

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Ørsted is the largest energy company in Denmark and develops and operates a host of renewable energy projects. Few companies have felt the Charybdis delay snafu more than Ørsted after having chartered Charybdis for two wind farms off the coast of New York that required alternative, and costly, plans for both. Two other projects off the coast of New Jersey were also delayed. The demand for offshore wind farms continues to grow but vessels remain scant.

The Biden Administration is projecting 10 million-plus US homes powered by wind turbines by 2030. To accomplish this, four to six 472-foot-long vessels like the Charybdis are required. While most wind farms depend on smaller vessels to transport construction workers, service the turbines, and lay underwater cables, the 472-foot-long vessels are novel and something US shipyards are just now tackling amidst a steep learning curve. One of the biggest obstacles remains the need for shipyard welders. Shipyards are understaffed for crucial work requiring the welding and pounding of foundation material into the seabed. China not included, there are an estimated 34 turbine-installation vessels operationally worldwide. The current shortage equates to exorbitant rental costs – upwards of $350,000 a day – that shipowners can command for wind farm and similar offshore projects.

Inflation and lingering pandemic effects have also contributed to laggard construction. Low pay and high turnover had been the norm in the welding community but combine that with the former and the Charybdis is now running a year behind schedule. Lastly, construction stateside takes much longer than in Europe or Asia due to the Jones Act. This nearly 100-year-old law was targeted at protecting (in the event of war) the US commercial shipping and the larger maritime industry. As a result, for offshore wind farms in US waters, only US-made and operated vessels can transport the turbine components to the wind farm sites from the port.