Wind power keying project cargo moves ports on the US Great Lakes.

At a growing number of ports on the U.S. Great Lakes, multi-purpose vessels carrying wind farm components and project cargo have become a familiar sight.

Among these ports, one finds Duluth, Ogdensburg, Buffalo, Erie, Monroe, Bay City, Burns Harbor, Chicago and Menominee. Many of the wind components originate from Spain, South Korea and Germany.

At the Port of Duluth-Superior, a 2020 total of 525,000 freight tons easily eclipsed 2019’s mark of 306,000 freight tons.
At the Port of Duluth-Superior, a 2020 total of 525,000 freight tons easily eclipsed 2019’s mark of 306,000 freight tons.

For its part, the U.S. wind industry had its strongest year ever in 2020, with new power capacity surging 85% over 2019. This brought the total capacity to 122,478 MW, or enough to power 38 million American homes. States with installed wind power include Minnesota and Illinois in the Great Lakes, though Texas alone accounts for one quarter of the U.S. total.

At the Port of Duluth-Superior, a 2020 record total of 525,000 freight tons easily eclipsed 2019’s mark of 306,000 freight tons. The shipments by 30 oceangoing ships from eight countries included the longest blades (242 feet) and towers (100 feet) ever handled at the port.

Looking beyond the numbers, Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, stresses that “the Port’s emergence as a wind cargo hub is an important win for cargo diversity and for the expansion of renewable energy nationwide. Being North America’s furthest inland seaport really lends well to Duluth being the Midwest hub for wind cargo arrivals.”

Can the record wind cargo pace carry through this year? Here Jayson Hron, marketing director, replies: “The 2021 outlook is still taking shape, but it does not appear likely that the port will register a third consecutive record-setting season for this particular cargo.”

Also worthy of special mention is the Port of Monroe in Michigan, which benefited from the largest project in its history in 2020, handling 14 vessels that delivered a total of 560 wind turbine segments from Bécancour, Quebec for General Electric’s wind energy activities in the state. The project helped offset the pandemic-related scarcity of cargoes at the beginning of the season. General Electric has a partnership with Monroe-based Ventower, which has produced several wind energy components for the company.

“If there is one word that defines the Port of Monroe during these challenging times it is ‘resilient,’”, says Paul LaMarre III, port director. “In the midst of an ever evolving economic and social climate, our team has adapted to new protocols and reinforced longstanding relationships leading to the Port’s most prosperous year in its history. As the home to one of only four wind tower manufacturers in the U.S., Ventower Industries, the Port has become a regional congregation and distribution hub for GE Wind.”