A Jones Act-compliant method for installing wind turbines could serve as a model for offshore windfarms outside of the US, says John Snyder
The US cabotage law known as the Jones Act is a lightning rod issue in the maritime industry. Part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act requires that trade between US ports be made on vessels built and flagged in the US and owned and operated by US citizens.
With such protectionist restrictions, the Jones Act is often cited by its opponents in the offshore oil and gas sector as a barrier to innovation and technology. But I have never really thought that argument holds together.
In fact, I think pioneering new technology is in the DNA of US OSV owners and can be, in part, attributed to the Jones Act.
Harvey Gulf International Marine, for example, was one of the first OSV owners to build LNG-fuelled platform supply vessels, and the company has gone a step further by committing to refit its LNG-fuelled PSVs with battery-hybrid packs.
Further, many recent developments in diesel-electric propulsion can be traced to a series of dynamic positioning class 2 OSVs for Rigdon Marine, the company built by former Tidewater executive Larry Rigdon and later sold to Gulfmark Offshore.
And now, again, the Jones Act is being cited by detractors as a barrier to innovation and fundamental market development – this time involving of the nascent American offshore wind market.
But I was interested to read recently that Iberdrola Offshore, the Spanish renewable developer of the Vineyard Wind, the largest offshore windfarm to date in the US, is going to install the project’s 84 wind turbines with no available US-flag wind turbine installation vessels.
With the Jones Act theoretically stymieing work by foreign-flagged, foreign-owned vessels in US ports, how would the plan work?
European-made foundations and offshore substations will be taken by ship directly to the site, where they will be loaded onto a barge and installed, never actually reaching a US port.
The turbines, towers and nacelles will be shipped to a staging area at the Port of New Bedford in Massachusetts where they will be prepared for installation. Four US-flagged jackup vessels will be used to take the wind turbines to the site, where they will be installed by two internationally-flag installation vessels that will remain offshore.
Avangrid Renewables vice president US offshore wind Alejandro de Hoz said he believed such a strategy may gain traction in other markets, according to a report in Wood Mackenzie’s GTM.
Mr de Hoz said he did not see the Jones Act as a drawback and that the US market would help in developing alternatives to European installation methods. He was quoted as saying “What we’re going to do here — this concept of feeder barges plus jack-ups — is something I’m almost convinced will develop as a global solution, not only in the US but in other geographies”.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps the Jones Act is the mother of innovation for US offshore players.