Edward G. LeBlanc, Head of Marine Affairs, Ørsted

Building Bridges for Offshore Wind

Edward G. LeBlanc leverages his 40+ year career with the U.S. Coast Guard as the Head of Marine Affairs, Ørsted, in forwarding its efforts to build clean energy offshore wind farms while helping to maintain safe maritime navigation for both traditional maritime operators in the region as well as Ørsted vessels.

By Greg Trauthwein

Image courtesy Ørsted

Ed, to start can you give us a brief on your career?

I’ve been with Ørsted since 2019, originally as the Northeast Marine Affairs Manager and now head of marine affairs. Our fundamental mission in marine affairs is focused on navigation safety. We facilitate navigation safety, we preserve navigation safety, we enhance navigation safety for all of our stakeholders, including those external to Ørsted, current waterway users, as well those that are internal to Ørsted, our own vessels, our own people. To do that, I have a staff of nine spread throughout the East Coast whose day-to-day functions is to engage with all stakeholdersto make sure we understand and address concerns.

For the previous 44 years (before 2019), since I was 18, I served a full career with the U.S. Coast Guard. I was a ship driver, but I spent my last 10 years or so involved with the offshore wind industry.

The Ørsted name is well known to this audience, but can you give by the numbers look at the offshore wind and marine operations in the U.S. market today?

Generally, I think the vessels are available. If you look at the supply chain, it’s a “if you build it, they will come situation.”The wind turbine installation vessels, the heavy lift jack vessels, the cable laying vessels, those vessels are in very limited or no supply in the U.S. There are no Jones Act compliant wind turbine installation vessels yet. There is one under construction, but none yet.

So it's key that we get those vessels from the international market to serve our U.S. projects, at least initially until we build up a Jones Act fleet. But those vessels are at the tip of the pyramid. As that pyramid spreads out all those support vessels that are needed, both in terms of getting components to those vessels and supplying all of their other logistics needs, those vessels are U.S. flagged, ready to go vessels. We do have a substantial fleet of those vessels available.

Image courtesy Ørsted

Inside one of the Ørsted simulators designed to help mariners be comfortable when navigating an offshore wind farm.

I know a big part of your job is outreach to local mariners. From where you sit, what are mariners’ major concerns about navigating within and around wind farms?

Their major concerns are normally focused on access to wind farms. They're afraid that they will not have access, but the Coast Guard has made clear in writing that navigation within wind farms will be preserved. And then the concerns are their ability to navigate within the wind farm. Here we provide mitigation and support to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, mariners can continue to operate within a wind farm to pursue their livelihood, which in the northeast is primarilycommercial fishing; in the mid-Atlantic it's primarily commercial shipping.

From what I understand, Ørsted is the only developer in the U.S. to have a full mission ship simulator that creates an experience of navigating within the offshore wind farm.

The simulator program is a real success story. The primary issue that we (heard from mariners) is that the spacing was an issue. In the northeast, all of our towers are spaced evenly one mile apart. And in the mid-Atlantic, nearly so all on a uniform grid pattern. But Greg, your idea in your head of one mile apart, is different than my idea of a mile apart, which is different than someone else's idea of a mile apart. So we created a simulated wind farm and a full mission simulatorto provide some sense of spatial awareness. So for mariners who may have some fears about operating (within the wind farm), this really helps reduce that fear.And without exception, there's not a single person that has gone into this simulator, or experienced it, and left saying, "I'm more concerned about navigating now, than I was before."

I understand that you have three simulators. Are they your own, or where are they located?

We own the software, we own the video, but we use the facilities at MITAGS outside of Baltimore, the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies. We use the facility at USMRC in Middletown, Rhode Island, the United States Maritime Resource Center. And we use the simulator at SUNY Maritime, the SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx.

Ed, I appreciate your time, I just have one more question. I understand that Ørsted proposed a navigation safety and training fund to support Mariners who were impacted by offshore wind. How exactly will that program work?

Listening to the Mariners, and particularly listening to them in the simulator, what we heard was that they would be comfortable navigating in a wind farm if they either had better tools or better training for their crew. That was recurring feedback we were receiving. So we created a fund – which is still in the conceptual stage on exactly how it'll be administered – to subsidize upgrades to mariner's equipment.

So if you've got an old Magnetron radar that you want to upgrade to the newer pulse compression type radar. And if you feel your crew needs some training, we can make some training available to your crew, or we will subsidize paying for that training, to get your crew proficient so that you as the master of a vessel feel comfortable navigating in a wind farm.

Image courtesy Ørsted

Inside one of the Ørsted simulators designed to help mariners be comfortable when navigating an offshore wind farm.

October 2022