Offshore Wind Takes Shape at Providence Innovation Hub
March 3, 2020
PROVIDENCE — A new glass-and-steel office space is less about the number jobs or the company that will occupy it and more about the industry taking root there.
Seven co-working desks at the Wexford Innovation Center on Dyer Street in the Jewelry District will soon be used by Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind. The Danish company is joining seven other wind-related companies already there. And judging by the 200 or so attendees at the March 2 office opening, a nascent industry is on the verge of rapid growth.
“This is a brand-new industry and it’s being born right here in the state of Rhode Island. It’s unbelievable,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said.
Twenty-two gigawatts of wind facilities are planned for federal waters between Maine and North Carolina, and undoubtedly a lot of engineers, tradespeople, boatbuilders, and more will be needed to get the turbines built and spinning.
Other port cities such as Boston, where Ørsted has its co-headquarters, New Bedford, Mass., and Norfolk, Va., are vying for the title of U.S. capital of offshore wind. But these is little doubt that Providence is part of the emerging blue economy. Ørsted, which bought Deepwater Wind in 2018, is still using its original downtown office on Exchange Terrace, where it has already doubled its staff from 30 to 60. More will work at the innovation hub on Dyer Street, where employees from Denmark and other offices will hold meetings with offshore wind entrepreneurs.
With its sweeping view of the East Side and nearby mill buildings, the Wexford complex is prime real estate. In less than a year, some 80 businesses are occupying suites or sharing office amenities. The pubic-private venture is steps from the new riverfront park and pedestrian bridge, and with the help of state tax incentives, the new, modern office building has drawn partners such as the Cambridge Innovation Center and Brown University and its medical science programs.
Incentives have also brought in tenants such as Johnson & Johnson and seven wind-energy companies that include GEV, Boston Energy, Glosten, and Harbor Light Software.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s happening,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said. “This place is, thankfully, really humming.“
Pryor quoted a state economic report showing that the offshore wind sector will create between 20,000 and 35,000 jobs along the East Coast by 2028. Rhode Island is already developing the jobs through wind companies and educational programs at the University of Rhode Island and other institutions.
The federal government, however, is at the moment stalling the offshore wind sector, as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is delaying a key environmental report of the Vineyard Wind facility, the 80-turbine project that is next to go on-line. Politics in Washington, D.C., may be to blame, but its approval will unleash seven other projects awarded leases in federal wind-energy areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Matthew Morrissey, head of the Ørsted New England market, said his company is monitoring the issue closely and speaking regularly with BOEM officials.
“There is a reality that in all energy infrastructure projects that there are bumps in the road,” Morrissey said. “This may be a small, little bump, but certainly not something that we think is going to eliminate the opportunities for offshore wind.”
Ørsted, the largest offshore wind company in the world, owns the Block Island Wind Farm and has commitments to build seven other projects off the East Coast, including the 400-megawatt Revolution Wind facility.
Thomas Brøstrom, Ørsted North America president and the company’s U.S. offshore wind CEO, said the global offshore wind market is growing 19 percent annually. He noted that his company had an innovation center in Silicone Valley but the Providence office is now is the epicenter for supply-chain activities outside the company’s Copenhagen headquarters.
“It will basically serve as our front door for U.S. companies interested in doing business with Ørsted,” Brøstrom said. “We think it’s safe to say the U.S. offshore wind industry would not be where it is today if it hadn’t been for the Ocean State.”