By The Herald Editorial Board
Jim Dunlap Jr., an official with Dunlap Towing, a tug and barge company with operations in Everett, La Conner and Olympia, didn’t realize it at the time but an internship 12 years ago in Germany is now providing some insight and inspiration into a possible new field of operations for the nearly century-old family maritime business.
During his internship there, German officials and the companies involved were launching offshore wind-turbine platforms for the generation of electricity. And those projects also had generated the interest of states from the East Coast U.S. A delegation from Massachusetts visited to gather information on the German efforts, discussions where Dunlap listened in.
He didn’t realize it at the time, he said, but that experience is now proving useful as he begins to hear of some of the possibilities for Dunlap Towing to be involved as discussions begin regarding the potential for offshore wind along the U.S. West Coast in California, Oregon and Washington state.
“From Dunlap Towing’s standpoint this is really the chance to get into the next generation of energy production,” Dunlap said during a recent discussion with other offshore wind players and the editorial board. “We started towing grain barges from Skagit County to Seattle in the 1920s, then we got into log towing and containerized barges, and now there’s a chance to give back and help with green energy.”
The East Coast, with shallower ocean floors that allow for direct placement of fixed turbine platforms, has had a head start on the West Coast, where the ocean floor drops off to deeper waters quickly. But recent developments in floating wind turbines — where turbines are placed on floating platforms anchored by cables to the ocean floor — have opened up new possibilities along the West Coast.
And maritime companies are gearing up quickly to take advantage of new technology and the encouragement from federal and state governments to harness the abundant wind found off the Pacific coast.
“We view offshore wind as a generational opportunity for clean energy and for American maritime jobs,” said Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO of American Waterways Operators, based in Washington, D.C., and representing the nation’s tugboat and barge industry. “The Biden administration has really staked a bold claim in setting a goal of generating 30 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes. And they’ve augmented that goal to go big on floating wind in the deep-water West Coast and the Gulf of Maine with another 15 gigawatts from floating offshore wind by 2035.”
And because Congress has passed legislation that makes the same requirements for offshore wind leases for American-flagged vessels and American crews as it does for offshore oil and gas leases, Carpenter said, that’s a huge opportunity for the nation’s maritime industry and workers.
One of those already working on projects on both coasts is Crowley Maritime with its wind services division. Along with a project off the coast of Virginia, Crowley also is part of a project that is turning an old pulp mill site on Humboldt Bay in northern California into a 86-acre supply facility for a 168-acre floating offshore wind farm that could be in operation by 2027 or 2028, said Jeff Andreini, vice president for Crowley Wind Services.
“If the nation wants to do 30 gigawatts and California alone wants to do 25 gigawatts, the opportunities are present not just for California, but for Oregon and Washington to participate in the supply chain to meet those goals up and down the U.S. West Coast,” Andreini said.
Already, there is at least one proposal for a wind farm off Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, said Peter Schrappen, the West Coast vice president for American Waterways Operators.
Olympic Wind, proposed by Seattle-based Trident Wind, is seeking federal permits for a floating offshore wind farm 43 miles off Grays Harbor that would generate 2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 800,000 homes, Schrappen said. It also could be producing electricity by 2028.
A second proposal, dubbed Cascadia, is in early stages, planned for a site 17 miles off Grays Harbor, and again could generate up to 2 gigawatts.
Yet a third for up to 1 gigawatt of energy was earlier proposed by the Quinault Indian Nation and named for Nagwia’sup, a Taholah legend of a great provider who could go out into the ocean and bring back enough food for the village for the winter.
Washington state is well-equipped to provide for and support a fledgling offshore wind industry that will need to begin harnessing the wind’s energy in a few short years. It has several deep-water ports that can be served by rail and highway transportation routes, existing manufacturing businesses, a skilled workforce and a commitment by state lawmakers, the governor and the Clean Energy Transformation Act that by 2045 will require all electricity come from renewable and non-carbon-emitting sources, with earlier targets that utilities transition to greenhouse-gas-neutral supplies of energy by 2030.
Because of the technical consideration, installing and servicing floating offshore wind farms presents challenges in permitting; the supply chain for turbines, blades and other components; the construction of new vessels designed for the work; and training for a pipeline of skilled maritime workers.
“Those are all things we can do,” Carpenter said. “But it’s a lot of work and we need to get going to take advantage of this.”
State lawmakers, officials and utilities will need to continue and build on work that will support those efforts. The potential payoff — a significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels and their contribution to pollution and climate change — is undeniable, as is the potential for jobs that pay well and can boost the region’s economic diversity.
For Dunlap Towing, now with 19 tugboats and about 130 employees, the potential is exciting, Dunlap said.
“We have a chance to have a lot of people have some work here if we have the opportunity to get involved in it,” he said. “We’re excited. My father, my sister and I are excited there’s a chance now to do something to give back to the environment. It’s a neat venture.”
Correction: Jim Dunlap Jr. was misidentied in an earlier version of this editor. He is an executive with Dunlap Towing.