Developments in Congress Could Slow U.S. Offshore Wind

But a new crewing provision might also create additional jobs for American mariners

A foreign-flag WTIV installed America's first commercial offshore wind farm off Block Island (Orsted)

Published Jul 15, 2022 5:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. offshore wind developers have run into several legislative setbacks this week, including one that could affect progress on installation. An amendment added in the House to the National Defense Authorization Act would require foreign WTIVs to hire U.S. mariners or, alternatively, citizens of the vessel's flag state. Wind farm developers are concerned that this would limit access to the foreign WTIV crewmembers who have worked on European installation projects in the past.

If passed as-is and signed, the clause could either create or eliminate new jobs for U.S. mariners, depending upon whether the effects of the rule halt construction and scuttle the industry's existing plans to hire U.S.-crewed Jones Act support vessels. The American Clean Power Association, the lobbying organization for U.S. offshore wind, claims that the amendment "would halt domestic offshore wind farm installations and thousands of jobs, including the overwhelming number of American mariner jobs associated with these projects." 

“This provision is a gut punch to offshore wind projects, and . . . it doesn’t belong in the law. It certainly doesn’t belong in the NDAA. We knew that if this largely unvetted crewing provision becomes law, it will delay offshore wind development," said American Clean Power CEO Heather Zichal in a statement. "We can’t keep saying we support clean energy and clean energy jobs but then pass laws that undermine them."

The language in the amendment parallels the provisions of the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act, a bill introduced in February by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). The Act would require the crew aboard specialized offshore international construction vessels (WTIVs) to match the flag of the vessel or to be American mariners if the vessel operates on the US Outer Continental Shelf. The Act is supported by the Offshore Marine Services Association (OMSA) and the Shipbuilders' Council of America (SCA).

Manchin pulls out of climate legislation

Offshore wind projects may also be affected by the decision by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to end his support for climate provisions in a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better plan, a budget reconciliation package he first blocked last year

Manchin has been negotiating with Senate leadership and with the White House for months over the terms of his support for a thinner version. On Friday, he suddenly announced that he would not vote for it if it contained climate-related provisions or tax hikes for wealthy individuals. 

Manchin's decision means that climate and clean energy provisions in the budget reconciliation package will likely be struck out. This could affect several provisions related to offshore wind, including - critically - the extension of tax credits for offshore wind projects. 

"It’s appalling that Congress missed this critical opportunity to accelerate affordable, clean energy deployment over the next decade - especially at a time when energy prices are crushing many Americans.  We urge our leaders to get back to the table and put America’s energy needs first," said ACP's Zichal. 

Manchin's late reversal is seen as a major blow to President Joe Biden's climate infrastructure plan. 

"The tax credits are the lungs of [the plan],” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said back in May. “They absolutely need to pass."