Just over a century ago, the U.S. Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the “Jones Act”, to protect the nation’s maritime interests. On the verge of potentially the greatest maritime industry boom since World War 2, the question of how to balance the dictates of the Jones Act and the commercial demands of Offshore Wind Power is a multi-trillion dollar question.

America’s offshore wind industry is set for liftoff after years of frustration, false starts and delays. This month, the country’s first large-scale commercial project, Vineyard Wind 1, announced it had secured the necessary $2.3 billion funding and will soon begin constructing its 800MW wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, with production expected in two years’ time. Other projects up and down the eastern seaboard should follow in short order.

Although some analysts believe the target overly ambitious, the Biden administration has thrown down a gauntlet that offshore-wind driven power will produce 30GW by 2030. What is evident: A much more receptive federal government is now moving in sync with states along the East Coast, where an increasing number of officials see offshore wind as a necessary component for both renewable energy needs and economic development opportunities. Private businesses and investors are rushing in as well. Further down the road, the West Coast shows enormous potential for floating offshore wind farms.

However, a 101-year-old law adds an element of uncertainty to this 21st Century windfall. The Jones Act, officially the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires American-built, operated and owned ships be deployed to transport people, goods and materials between one US port and another, between domestic destinations, or between a domestic port and point in US territorial waters. Most offshore wind projects will be situated in federal waters. Much as the oil and gas industry before it, offshore wind developers must figure out whether or not to employ Jones Act vessels to construct the wind farms or maneuver around them.

A “Tough Decision” to Make

“The USA has a tough decision to make in the next few years,” said Martin Dronfield, special advisor to James Fisher Marine Services, chairman of the East of England Energy Group and a veteran in offshore wind and oil and gas development.

Many types of vessels will be subject to Jones Act compliance over the course of offshore wind energy development and production. These “coastwise vessels” will include everything from cable-laying vessels to those that ferry crews and supplies. However, the ships that are garnering particular scrutiny are those most critical to the construction process — and the most costly: Purpose-built wind turbine installation vessels, known as wind turbine installation vessels, or WTIVs. These are ships capable of carrying and lifting the enormous wind generating components. Westwood Global Energy Group defines these as “self-propelled jackups, with crane capacity greater than 600 metric tons.”

The first Jones Act-compliant, purpose-built vessel is now under construction in Brownsville, Texas at the Keppel…

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