The U.S. offshore wind map may be dominated by European developers, but the industry is steadily taking on a local flavor.
On Thursday, market leader Ørsted announced that Thomas Brostrøm, long-standing CEO of the Danish developer’s U.S. offshore wind business, is leaving the company. David Hardy, a wind industry veteran who joined Ørsted Offshore North America only earlier this year, will take the top job effective immediately.
Ørsted did not reveal where Brostrøm, one of the U.S. industry’s highest-profile figures, is heading, but in a statement said he is “relocating to Europe for a renewable energy leadership role with a global energy company.”
Hardy’s appointment reflects an industry that is transitioning to more local oversight and a larger U.S. workforce, even if it remains largely in the hands of European companies. Brostrøm is a native of Denmark; Hardy is American.
“I was hired as a successor to Thomas when and if [he left], though we didn’t necessarily expect it to be this fast,” Hardy said in an interview. Ørsted’s executive management knew that “it would make sense at some point to have a U.S. leader,” he added.
Paving the way for a big U.S. offshore wind workforce
Ørsted is the world’s top offshore wind developer, with projects across Northern Europe and Taiwan. The company has made the U.S. one of its most important growth markets, despite there being just seven turbines spinning in American waters today totaling 42 megawatts, compared to Europe's 22 gigawatts.
In addition to the 30 MW Block Island wind farm it acquired along with developer Deepwater Wind in 2018, Ørsted has another five U.S. projects with offtake contracts, totaling 3 GW. Those include the 1.1 GW Ocean Wind project for New Jersey and the 880 MW Sunrise project for New York.
Building 3 GW in a nascent market over the next few years will require an enormous scaling-up of the local supply chain and workforce. All five of Ørsted’s contracted projects are scheduled for completion by 2024, though some may face delays due to federal permitting issues.
Ørsted employs nearly 200 offshore wind workers in North America today, with dual headquarters in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. But the need for local workers is growing.
“We’ve talked about by the end of 2030 having maybe 1,000 people here,” Hardy said. "We'll have operational jobs, we'll have projects in construction, and we'll still have business development work because hopefully, we'll be continuing to bid on new projects."
"And, of course, along the way we're dragging the supply chain with us."
Most of Ørsted’s U.S. offshore wind workforce today is composed of white-collar jobs, but that will change once projects enter construction, Hardy said. "When we get to the operational phase, there will be translatable folks coming from oil and gas, coming from onshore renewables, from the power sector overall, and hopefully other places as well."
A number of major European energy companies have invested in U.S. offshore wind projects, including Iberdrola, Shell, BP, Equinor and EDF — and even more would like to. Wood Mackenzie expects the U.S. to install nearly 25 GW of offshore wind by the end of the decade, and the market may get a further boost if Joe Biden is elected president.
Making good on local supply-chain promises
Like other developers, Ørsted’s winning U.S. project bids have come with commitments to invest in the local supply chain. Those promises must soon become real-world investments under Hardy's leadership.
Ørsted is part of a public-private partnership that plans to invest $157 million in overhauling the State Pier in New London, Connecticut, and the company is engaged in similar port development efforts in Maryland.
Earlier this month Ørsted and utility Eversource ordered what will be the first service operations vessel compliant with the controversial Jones Act. The vessel will be built at Gulf of Mexico shipyards owned by Louisiana-based Edison Chouest. The SOV is essentially a “floating hotel where folks go out for two weeks at a time to do service work,” Hardy said.
Ørsted reportedly faced recent criticism from several lawmakers in New Jersey over its plan to help Germany’s EEW establish a factory for steel monopile foundations in Paulsboro in that state. The lawmakers, including state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, claimed the factory is not yet underway. Foundations are one of the major components in an offshore wind farm, and a U.S.-sited factory would be a big step for the industry.
The lawmakers have “big ambitions and aggressive timelines” for offshore wind jobs, Hardy said. "Ørsted is 100 percent committed, and on track, and not in any way delinquent in delivering all the things that we committed to doing down there."
"You’ll see in the next couple of weeks more of a direct response to the accusations," he said.