A wind farm developer plans to bring steel production back to Sparrows Point, establishing a manufacturing hub to serve the growing wind energy industry that would start with a proposed expansion of offshore turbines in Ocean City.
US Wind, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of Italian renewable energy firm Renexia SpA, announced its vision Tuesday for 90 waterfront acres at Tradepoint Atlantic, a 3,300-acre logistics center in Baltimore County, where it plans to assemble turbine components and start a company called Sparrows Point Steel.
The steel factory would make the towers that anchor wind turbines to the ocean floor. It would aim to supply US Wind’s Ocean City projects and, longer term, the wind energy market across the United States.
The company signed a long-term lease Tuesday to turn the old shipyard at the massive former Bethlehem Steel mill site into an offshore wind construction hub, where work initially would support an ambitious expansion of wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City, US Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said.
“It will be one of the finest offshore wind hubs in all of North America,” Grybowski said Tuesday during an announcement at the site. “We want to do this with good-paying, union jobs based right here in Baltimore County.”
US Wind, which holds lease rights to an area that spans about 80,000 acres 13 miles off the beach resort town, has been working on the first phase, called “MarWin,” which includes building 22 turbines about 17 miles from shore. US Wind won approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2016 for that stage, expected to generate about 270 megawatts of wind energy and power for about 80,000 homes by 2025.
The wind farm’s second phase, announced Tuesday and called “Momentum Wind,” would be four times as large as the first phase, with 82 turbines when built out by 2028. It is the biggest wind energy project ever proposed in Maryland and would supply the state with 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy.
The entire project would have the capacity to generate 1,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy, or enough electricity to power more than half a million homes, the company said. The company is seeking PSC approval to proceed with expansion.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan; Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, and other state and local elected officials touted the return of steel work and thousands of jobs to Sparrows Point in a way that could make the state a clean energy leader.
“Offshore wind presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state of Maryland to expand and diversify our economy and our energy portfolio,” Hogan said. “The job creation potential and associated economic benefits for the broader supply chain of offshore wind development is an absolute game changer.”
Adrienne A. Jones, the Democratic speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, called US Wind’s plan one of the state’s “most impactful and innovative” renewable energy projects, one that would help make the state’s goal of 50% clean energy over the next decade more attainable.
US Wind’s plans for the shipyard continue Tradepoint’s seven-year transformation of the steel mill site into a logistics and distribution center where some 10,000 people work for employers such as Amazon, FedEx, McCormick and Under Armour.
The return of steel represents a full-circle moment for the property, said Kerry Doyle, Tradepoint Atlantic’s managing director.
“Today we can definitely say, offshore wind is here, Sparrows Point Steel is here, and ladies and gentlemen, steel is back,” Doyle said. “It is my privilege to say to ... the United Steelworkers, welcome home.”
Bethlehem Steel, which had employed more than 30,000 people at its 1959 peak, for decades offered middle-class wages and benefits to generations of Baltimore-area workers. The plant closed in 2012 after years of uncertainty and a series of owners.
US Wind said it has signed memorandums of understanding with Baltimore-DC Building & Construction Trades, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers union that commit it to hiring union labor for construction and steel fabrication.
Jim Strong, assistant to the director for United Steelworkers, said Sparrows Point is hallowed ground for him and fellow steel workers. Strong called the announcement “great news for everybody ... It is a very emotional day for our union.”
“Our members are hardworking Marylanders,” Strong said. “They have the skills, the training and the commitment to do great work for this exciting new industry. We are excited to be part of US Wind’s visionary plans to bring steel back to Sparrows Point.”
The company estimates the Sparrows Point Steel factory could employ 500 workers at capacity. US Wind’s existing offshore project is expected to generate 1,300 construction jobs, with another 3,500 jobs estimated for the proposed second phase, Grybowski said.
Staci Hartwell, who focuses on environmental and climate justice for the NAACP State Conference in Maryland and attended Tuesday’s announcement, welcomed US Wind’s plans as a way to expand clean energy in the state and to create jobs.
But she would like to see “that all communities get to participate in the opportunity that offshore wind means to Maryland,” she said. “A lot of times these opportunities are touted as being great for the community, but not all the community gets to participate.”
The wind energy developer plans to invest $77 million at Tradepoint for port upgrades that will allow the firm to bring in large equipment to build and assemble turbine components, Grybowski said. The site has key advantages over other East Coast industrial port sites, he said, including its large size and one of the largest dry docks on the coast.
“We think that our MarWin and Momentum will be the first two customers of this facility,” Grybowski said, “but we think we will have great prospects to serve the rest of the offshore wind industry.”
US Wind will join another wind energy developer at Tradepoint Atlantic. Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind recently funded $13.2 million in upgrades at the Sparrows Point site to allow for the transportation of heavy wind turbine components, such as blades, foundations, nacelles and towers for Orsted’s Skipjack Wind Farm, located about 20 miles off the coast of Ocean City, and for future projects.
Grybowski said Sparrows Point Steel, which is proposed as a fabrication facility in the expansion proposal before the public service commission, would be housed in as many as six new and rehabbed buildings.
Workers will bend, roll and weld the steel towers and foundations, known as monopiles, which will be transported on barges to wind farms under construction. At capacity, the factory could produce 80 monopiles a year, he said.
US Wind’s two offshore projects, representing about 5% of all offshore wind projects proposed nationwide, would contribute to Democratic President Joe Biden’s goal of cutting net greenhouse gas pollution in half and increasing total wind power to 30,000 megawatts by 2030, Grybowski said.
“The offshore wind industry in the U.S. has really taken a turning point,” said Brad Fierstein, with Apollo Global Management, a New York asset manager that is the principal investor in US Wind’s projects. “We think that this is a pivotal moment in history where we will see unprecedented momentum in clean energy, energy transition, job creation. ... Maryland has a really unique opportunity here to stake its claim as part of this energy transition.”
The size of US Wind’s wind energy farms is typical of those being proposed offshore along the East Coast, Grybowski said.
“Because of the growth of the industry over the last few years, it’s giving folks like US Wind confidence that this market is ready to take off, and we are in a place where we can begin investing in manufacturing capacity in the U.S.,” he said.