TODAY'S PAPER
81° Good Morning
81° Good Morning
Business

Looking for a windfall from offshore wind farms

ULC Robotics develops technology to support energy and utility companies. On Jan. 9, aerial services program manager Mike Passaretti talked about the drones ULC developed to inspect an offshore wind farm. Credit: Howard Schnapp, Christopher Maier, Mike Passaretti, Tony Delnevo

Long Island companies and unions are ramping up their efforts to win a share of the more than $1.2 billion in spending and 2,500 jobs that offshore wind farms are projected to bring to New York State over the next five years.

Sixty businesses and unions in Nassau and Suffolk counties have registered with a state database that wind farm developers will use when putting out bids for work. But competition will be fierce: The database has nearly 850 entries from North America, Europe and Asia.

“We see this as a huge business opportunity,” said Greg Penza, founder and CEO of ULC Robotics in Hauppauge, whose drones have been used since 2018 to inspect steel foundations supporting the turbines at the only offshore wind farm in the United States, near Block Island, Rhode Island.

“Right now, this is a nascent business for us, but we are anticipating it will grow and grow,” he said. “Five years from now, we hope to be employing 50 to 60 pilots and crew members, and to be flying UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] from Maine to Virginia” to help with the construction and maintenance of offshore wind farms.

Two international companies are driving the region's wind energy business: Orsted, the Danish company that operates the Block Island farm, and Equinor of Norway. 

Orsted, the world's largest offshore wind energy developer, plans two projects off the East End: Sunrise Wind Farm and South Fork Wind Farm. Equinor’s project, Empire Wind Farm, will be located off Jones Beach.

New York State is providing incentive payments to support construction and operation of the Sunrise and Empire farms for 25 years. The payments will result in an average increase of 73 cents per month on residential electric bills, according to a state report published in October.

Together, Sunrise and Empire will have the capacity to generate nearly 1,700 megawatts by 2024, enough electricity to power more than one million homes. The South Fork farm is smaller, producing 130 megawatts for 70,000 homes, but is expected to come online earlier, in 2022.

The farms' steel turbine towers will rise more than 800 feet from the surface of the water, and have rotor blades that are more than 300 feet long. The blades will be connected to generating components in a covered hub that's the size of a small house.

The Sunrise and South Fork farms won't be visible from Long Island because they'll be 30 miles from Montauk Point. The Empire farm may be seen at certain times because it will be 15 miles south of Jones Beach.

New York will solicit proposals this year for at least another 1,000 megawatts to be generated by new farms in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in his Jan. 8 State of the State speech. 

He has set a goal of 9,000 megawatts by 2035, enough electricity to power more than 6 million homes. That's the largest commitment by any state to purchase offshore wind energy. 

The initiative "not only strengthens our ability to fight climate change – it will also benefit Long Island and communities across the state with billions in economic development and thousands of new good-paying jobs,” Cuomo told Newsday.

Local companies and workers should play a big role in the new wind industry "because many of the wind farms are right off our shores," said Penza of ULC Robotics. "But every region of the state is competing for a piece of this pie.”

Local firms hope to have a hand in constructing the wind farms, on-shore operations facilities, and infrastructure supporting the delivery of electricity via underground cables that will connect to substations in Holbrook, East Hampton Town and Brooklyn.

"When the power line hits the shore there's going to be infrastructure there, concrete there ... We can make anything out of concrete that they need," said Thomas Montalbine, president of Roman Stone Construction Co. in Bay Shore, a manufacturer of concrete vaults and distribution boxes for utility companies, precast pavement slabs and septic systems.

Montalbine said he's had conversations with Orsted about its plans and how 117-year-old Roman Stone can be a part of them, possibly supplying the concrete work platforms that sit on top of the turbine foundations. He said he plans to introduce himself to Equinor executives.

"If we're going to be around for another 100 years, we have to look out for these opportunities," Montalbine said of Roman Stone, which has more than 50 workers and annual sales of between $10 million and $12 million.

For Long Island, the biggest initial economic benefit from offshore wind will be jobs. Orsted and Equinor will be hiring lobbyists to secure the required government permits, engineers to design the wind farms and workers to build and maintain the turbines.

More than 1,600 jobs, including nearly 1,300 in construction, will be created by the two larger wind farms. Salaries will average more than $100,000 per year based on a review of the wind farm companies’ contracts with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA.

After construction is completed, Orsted said it will have operations and maintenance facilities in Port Jefferson and Montauk. Together, they will be home to more than 100 workers who will run and maintain the company’s offshore wind farms in New York and New England.

“The jobs that come with our projects start now,” said Jennifer Garvey, Orsted’s Long Island development manager. “There’s an enormous permitting process that we have to go through, which will take a lot of people." 

Orsted is partnering with Eversource, New England's largest energy provider, on its wind farm projects in the Northeast. 

Orsted and Equinor, under their New York State contracts, will build foundations for their wind turbines in two ports on the Hudson River in Albany.

Equinor will assemble its turbines in Brooklyn. Orsted said it hasn't determined where its turbine assembly will take place. 

Equinor will open an operations and maintenance center on the South Brooklyn waterfront for its wind farm off Jones Beach. Long Islanders will likely be among the center's 60 to 100 employees, said Julia Bovey, the company's director of external affairs.

The offshore wind industry will create 2,500 jobs in New York over the next five years at the three announced farms and others, according to state estimates.

Many people will need specialized training to construct, operate and maintain the facilities. Wind farm technicians, for example, spend two weeks on the farm and two weeks on land. They live in a floating dormitory while maintaining the turbines.

This month, Cuomo announced the selection of Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook University to lead a statewide Offshore Wind Training Institute. The institute, with $20 million in state funds, will incorporate union apprenticeship programs, technical schools and other colleges, he said. 

Separately, Orsted has pledged $10 million for a training center at Suffolk County Community College that will collaborate with local unions.

Training programs will have to address workplace rules set by the trade group Global Wind Organization in Denmark.

“The director of our apprenticeship school is looking at the GWO requirements to see how we can incorporate their standards into our curriculum,” said John Cush, Long Island business agent for Local 361 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers union.

“Our members are extremely interested in this opportunity,” he said. “Ironworkers have experience working with a crane and putting up buildings …So, [constructing wind farms] is a natural fit for us.”

Local 361 has 800 working members, about 70 percent of whom live on Long Island, Cush said. 

The wind farms will be built primarily by unionized construction workers. The state is requiring Orsted and Equinor to negotiate labor agreements with unions to ensure all workers receive the union wage rate plus health insurance and pension benefits.

In addition, the developers are required to make their best effort to award work to businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans.

That could be a boon for Green Engineering Projects in Bellmore.

The consulting firm was started nine years ago by Nina Shah-Giannaris as a side gig to her full-time job as a civil engineering professor at Nassau Community College.

She is the firm’s sole employee and inspects construction site work on her days off. The work includes inspections of new buildings and federally-funded storm recovery projects like flood doors, docks and elevated generators.

“I could hire some people if I could get a piece of the wind-farm subcontracting work,” Shah-Giannaris said. “I’ve been searching for an opportunity like this for a long time.”

She joined about 200 business executives, union leaders and teachers in November for a workshop at Farmingdale State on doing business with the offshore wind industry. “I want to learn more about what the wind farm developers need from subconsultants like me,” she said.

Producing components for the foundations, turbines and towers that make up each offshore wind farm isn’t likely to take place on Long Island in the next few years. But it could occur within 10 years as parts makers move from Europe because of the increased number of farms in the United States, said Alicia Barton, the state’s point person for offshore wind as head of NYSERDA.

She noted the number of wind farms will rise because of the higher wind velocity and shallow waters in New York and New England. Construction of farms from Massachusetts to Virginia will total nearly $70 billion by 2030, according to estimates from the University of Delaware's offshore-wind research initiative.

“Everybody talks about wind turbines but that’s not the only manufacturing opportunity,” Barton said. “There’s concrete, the secondary steel that’s welded onto the towers, and the towers themselves …There’s every opportunity for that work to take place in the United States, in New York and on Long Island."

At drone designer and manufacturer ULC Robotics, officials plan to expand the capabilities that the company can offer wind farms.

ULC intends to introduce a drone that lifts off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane, said Mike Passaretti, manager of the drone division. 

The aircraft is ideal for offshore wind farms, both during their construction and operation, because it takes off from land, can travel farther than older model drones and carries heavier objects.

With the new drone, Passaretti said, ULC Robotics can monitor whales and other protected species during wind farm construction, deliver parts for repairs and aid in rescuing wind farm technicians who fall into the sea.

The company, with 150 employees and revenue of $37 million last year, is adding a second building in Hauppauge and eyeing Calverton as a base for its drones unit.

"We're in a unique, exciting position with the offshore wind industry coming into our backyard," Passaretti said. "There's a lot of opportunity out there."

SEEKING OFFSHORE WIND WORK

Sixty businesses and unions from Long Island have registered for the state database that offshore wind developers will use when awarding work. They include:

* Cameron Engineering & Associates LLP, engineering, Woodbury

* Electrical workers’ union (Locals 25 & 1049), Hauppauge and Holtsville

* Hallen Construction, cable installation, Plainview

* Haugland Group, construction, Melville

* Laborers' union (Locals 1298 & 66), Hempstead and Melville

* Operating Engineers’ union (Local 138), Farmingdale

* Racanelli Construction Co. Inc., construction, Melville

* Twinco, electrical parts manufacturer, Hauppauge

SOURCE: NYS Energy Research and Development Authority