Mass. Maritime opens training center for offshore wind workers

Wind
U.S. Department of Energy photo
A crew transfer vessel approaches a wind turbine in the Baltic Sea off Germany. Wind farm development off New England has given rise to a Mass. Maritime facility to teach the skills needed to safely service the towers.

A new Massachusetts Maritime Academy facility to train and certify offshore wind workers is the first of its kind in the country. The state contributed $1.73 million to its development, a nod to the rapidly emerging wind power industry in the region.

“This facility is an example of how all things maritime can meet the energy sector,” Mass. Maritime President Rear Adm. Francis McDonald said at the opening ceremony in Buzzards Bay on Oct. 24.

The school first looked into the need for such a facility in 2011 when Cape Wind, an ill-fated offshore project, was initially proposed for Nantucket Sound. Wind companies will pay tuition for workers to undergo coursework at Mass. Maritime. Though the training does not result in credit hours earned, graduates will be certified with the nonprofit Global Wind Organization (GWO), which logs and tracks their credentials for employer verification.

Open-sea wind turbines are typically larger than onshore versions and include mooring for support vessels that deliver supplies and crew. The training facility includes an indoor climbing area and a modified Carolina Skiff rigged to mimic a typical crew transfer vessel.

Instructors are a mix of existing staff and outside experts in specialty areas. Mass. Maritime partnered with Copenhagen-based RelyOn Nutec to train the instructors to deliver curriculum that meets GWO industry standards. The initial basic safety training course covers first aid, manual handling, fire awareness, working at heights and sea survival.

The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that more than 43,000 new jobs will be created nationwide by 2030 in the offshore wind market. In the Northeast alone, wind power is expected to generate 2,000 to 3,000 jobs, with economic impacts between $1 billion and $2 billion.

Massachusetts has the largest technical offshore wind potential by wind speed of any state in the U.S., according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill requiring state utilities to move toward more renewable energy sources, including onshore and offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is a crucial part of our administration’s climate strategy,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said at the facility’s opening. “It is vital that we have a skilled workforce ready for jobs that will bring new opportunities to many residents in the commonwealth.”

Several offshore projects have been proposed or are currently under development in Massachusetts, including Vineyard Wind, an 84-turbine farm about 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and the New England market is growing more competitive. Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind built the country’s first commercial offshore wind farm off Block Island in 2016. Two years later, Danish wind giant Orsted bought the company, signaling its attraction to the Northeast.

New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind contributed $200,000 to Massachusetts’ Offshore Wind Workforce development program, which provided grants to six academic institutions and labor organizations for training, including $184,000 to Mass. Maritime for curriculum development.

Though Vineyard Wind’s $2.8 billion offshore farm is stalled while under federal review, CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen said training and certification efforts are critical to the ultimate success of both the project and his company.

Globally, the industry is expected to become one of the largest electricity producers in the next decade. As the industry grows, so does the size of the turbines — some have rotors with a wingspan of almost 600 feet. Since the first offshore turbines began producing energy in 1991, their output and efficiency has increased by about 30 times as the cost has fallen to about half that of nuclear power. An offshore farm in the North Sea can produce up to 6 gigawatts of electricity, about the same as five large nuclear plants.

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