Word earlier this summer that the US state of New Jersey has chosen developer Atlantic Shores to deliver more than half of the 2.66GW of power to be brought to grid via its highly-anticipated second offshore wind solicitation was a major boost for the sector’s progress in the region – and for Jen Daniels, development director at the EDF-Shell joint venture (JV), far better than any jackpot ringing out from one of the slot machines in Atlantic City.

Atlantic Shores holds one of the largest lease areas in the waters off the eastern seaboard – where the Biden administration aims to have a total of 30GW turning by the end the decade – with “at least” 3GW of power generation potential in the full 740km2 zone it won in 2018.

But until it landed the 1.5GW award from New Jersey in June it had no project to formally move forward on.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled,” says Daniels, speaking exclusively with Recharge. “When we acquired the lease back in 2018, the team ramped up and hit the ground running – this is, of course, the second-largest [permitted offshore wind] project in the country [after Orsted’s neighbouring 2.2GW Ocean Wind].

“But it was three years of intensive effort – and much of that during the Covid pandemic – to put this bid together and having our two parent companies, leaders in power and oil globally, pull together under very difficult circumstances. This award from the state of New Jersey really points to the potential of what we as a developer can do in partnership.”

“And,” she adds, “in some ways what is more exciting is that even with the size of the award, at 1.5GW, we still have tremendous upside capacity left in our lease area.”

'As big as they come'

The overarching plan taking shape for the total development zone, located 16-32km from shore between Atlantic City and Barnegat Light, New Jersey, is as big as they come, with Daniels noting capacity could grow “far beyond” the nameplated 3GW. Currently being progressed around a first phase using 111 turbines in water depths of 18-30 metres laid out across the southern half of the lease, Atlantic Shores is nonetheless keeping its options open to upsize its ambitions in the future.

We want to harness the best technologies, so we have a range of turbine sizes in our permits.

“We want to harness the best technologies,” she says. “So, we have a range of turbine sizes in our permits – the smallest would be 13.6MW and our largest is 20MW. There is huge potential here in the bottom half [of the lease area]. And we are currently actively developing the site plan for the northern half, which we will be submitting to BOEM [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] in early 2022.”

As it stands, Atlantic Shores has earmarked 15MW (13.6MW) Vestas turbines – the Danish OEM’s first potential order for a commercial-scale project in the US – set atop monopiles to be manufactured by Germany’s EEW at a new plant in Paulsboro, New Jersey for the lead-off phase, with fabrication set to start in 2023. The developer is also exploring using concrete gravity base or suction bucket jacket foundations for later stages of the zone’s development.

“We have been working with our suppliers, looking ahead on our projects, to see where the technology might go [by the time a development plan is locked in],” says Daniels. “We know it takes time to permit these projects and so we want to try to build in that ‘reasonable range’ of technologies, whether it is the size of turbine we will ultimately use… or the foundations, for that matter.”

'Lead with the science'

Though start of construction is on a fast-approaching horizon, the developer is already well advanced in its work “understanding the resource and environment” in the lease area, says Daniels, with a pair of data collection buoys amassing key atmospheric and weather data, as well as tracking the migration of a variety of species of bird, fish, turtle and other marine fauna nano-tagged by researchers.

“We have been collecting data now for several years; we have seen very favourable conditions in the lease area – wind speeds as fast eight metres per second. We are following the mantra of ‘lead with the science’, so since the beginning we have been sharing all the meteorological and oceanographic data publicly, to support the development of offshore wind in the Atlantic and our choices related to engineering and design and layout of our lease area,” she says.

“Some issues [on a given offshore wind project] will be site-specific but many others are regional-scale: migratory species, whales, birds, fish, climatic aspects, that will warrant a more collaborative approach… and will help contribute to the body of science today and out into the future.”

Cohabitation with the US Atlantic fisheries industries continues to be one of the slipperiest issues facing the offshore wind sector as it wades out for its first wave of industrial projects, due to concerns the vast arrays of turbines will disrupt historical fishing grounds – and despite the fact that fishermen and mariners could land “thousands of job-years” from contracts in offshore wind through to 2030, according to reports from the New York State Economic Research & Development Authority and others.

However, Daniels believes offshore wind could represent the best of all worlds for maritime industries by aiding in mitigating the world impacts of climate change, while “supporting the continued use of the ocean waters by its many users”.

What we are trying to achieve is that ‘coexistence’, that balance, between us and the many other users of the ocean

“It’s a new industry, so on one level it is a fear of the unknown and I know [the fishermen] have concerns about what these [offshore wind] projects mean for their livelihoods,” she says. “What we are trying to achieve is that ‘coexistence’, that balance, with them and the many other users of the ocean.

“For us, we see offshore wind as helping to stem the effects of climate change – which of course is impact [the fisheries] too and their resources – while supporting a better understanding of what the real impacts of our operations offshore will be.

“It is hard sometimes, people are nervous about what the outcomes will be [once you have tens of gigawatts of wind turbines offshore]. But we believe in open dialogue, leading with the science, and so on… I think attitudes will start really changing once the first wind farms are in operation and have been running for a while. There will be lessons learned. We will start working together better over time.”

Economic potential

Plus, Daniels adds, the jobs created will become “an increasingly important part of the discussion” with fisheries and other maritime industries, with the Atlantic Shores expected to generate over 3,000 positions across the project’s development, construction and operational phases, according to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), which oversees the New Jersey’s offshore wind procurement.

The economic development potential that will go hand-in-hand with the gigawatt-scale clean power production from offshore wind plant in the US Atlantic has been arguably an even bigger selling feature to states such as New Jersey, with the developer calculating that building the first 1.5GW will spur the injection of $1.9bn into the economy.

“This first lease area is only roughly a third of the potential here. We have set roots down in New Jersey, we have a lot more lease to develop, so clearly we want to establish a solid supply chain here that can help spring this industry forward.”

Along with its investment in the $250m monopile fabrication facility at Paulsboro, Atlantic Shores’ lead-off offshore wind project will be operationalised in two phases in 2027 and 2028 and be staged and marshalled out of the New Jersey Wind Port (NJWP), where it is making a $35.6m investment.

The developer is also looking to support development of a nacelle factory at the NJWP as well, while its operations base for the zone will be built along the coast in Atlantic City.

Projects have been 'jogging in place'

Though there remain existential questions to resolve around the number of Jones Act-compliant vessels that will be available by mid-decade to install the turbines in the frame for Atlantic Shores’ project among the giant developments now moving ahead – and the indeed equally daunting matter of getting tens of gigawatts of power ashore and onto the eastern seaboard grid – Daniels believes, with BOEM working up the gears in permitting the projects to be built in federal waters, that “promise is turning into reality at last”.

“A lot of projects like ours have been jogging in place. You can have all the state support you like and the OREC [offshore renewable energy credits] in place, but you have to permit these projects,” she underlines.

“Now it’s ‘let’s get these projects moving’. There is great momentum. Our Notice of Intent is set for the fall – we weren’t expecting to be there before the end of 2021, for example,” Daniels says, adding the project timeline today sees construction starting in 2024 and first power by 2027.

“New Jersey has great ambitions, the US has great ambitions and [Atlantic Shores’] contribution through development of this project is laying the foundation for us to propel future projects out of our lease area and more widely in the mid-Atlantic,” she concludes. “We are going to be here for a long time.”