Denmark-based energy firm Ørsted’s pursuit of a wind-to-energy farm miles off Maryland’s shore includes assembling turbines at Tradepoint Atlantic and potentially manufacturing the devices at the Baltimore County facility.
Claus Møller, chief operating officer of Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, said the company continues to work out details regarding how to provide and build wind turbine parts so workers can assemble the massive energy-producing structures at Sparrows Point.
“Right now we’re still in the fairly early design and procurement phase, which means we have not locked all of that down … it’s an offshore wind farm, so we have wind turbines, so there’s blades, and towers, and what’s called a nacelle … are expected to come through here. It could also be manufactured here in its entirety, or it could be sub-assembly, or it could simply just be coming in for storage,” Møller said.
Representatives from Ørsted joined elected officials and executives from developer Tradepoint Atlantic to celebrate the firm’s $13.2 million investment to build a facility to connect the turbines and ship them to the firm’s Skipjack Wind Farm about 20 miles offshore.
Construction on the facility in Baltimore County is slated to begin in 2020, according to Tradepoint Atlantic. Ørsted anticipates starting construction on its wind farm off Maryland’s coastline in 2021 and to start producing energy by 2022.
Tradepoint Atlantic says the 50-acre facility will create the equivalent of 913 full-time jobs during the development phase. Operating the facility is expected to employ 484 people on a permanent basis.
Maryland and regional elected and economic development officials long have wanted the Tradepoint Atlantic site used again for manufacturing.
The Sparrows Point peninsula now hosting Tradepoint Atlantic was the home for nearly a century’s worth of steelmaking that helped forge Baltimore’s reputation as a manufacturing center.
After steelmaking at the site finally faltered in 2012 after decades of decline, residents in the area hoped a new user would bring back the jobs that bolstered nearby communities, such as Dundalk.
When the Tradepoint Atlantic redevelopment emerged so, too, did hopes of the return of manufacturing jobs. Establishing an advanced manufacturing presence on Sparrows Point held potential to fashion a significant boost to the regional economy.
Tradepoint Atlantic, according to a 2016 report by Sage Policy Group Inc., possesses the potential to generate a $2.9 billion regional economic impact and to support 17,000 jobs. That forecast, however, was based on attracting a significant advanced manufacturing presence.
Advocates for that sector now worry that the logistics and warehousing operations that have emerged as Tradepoint Atlantic’s major tenant base will not leave room for manufacturers at the 3,200-acre site.
There’s also concern if Tradepoint Atlantic does not evolve into a manufacturing hub it limits the development’s ability to support jobs providing a ladder to the middle class.
Positions in warehouse and distribution facilities pay workers without college degrees better than other sectors, such as retail. Those logistics positions, however, don’t pay the same level wages as modern manufacturing jobs.
Mike Galiazzo, president of Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, said Tradepoint Atlantic needs a comprehensive plan to encourage “manufacturing villages” to emerge.
A cluster of renewable energy firms at Tradepoint Atlantic, serving as a thread for a manufacturing knot at the site, presents an interesting opportunity, he said.
But it’s unclear if enough local firms and expertise are present to build and retool wind turbines.
“It’s a good location for manufacturing and assembly (at Sparrows Point), but I’m not sure we have a strategy for dealing with the manufacturing piece,” Galiazzo said.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who grew up in the community around Sparrows Point, said he believes Tradepoint Atlantic is positioned to attract manufacturing. He has pledged to support the developer’s pursuit of those firms.
“Having the logistics already in place, in addition to the deep-water access, the rail, and the highways, it really tees up, not only assembly, but eventually light and advanced manufacturing really well in the future. I’ll be exploring whatever I can do to support Tradepoint Atlantic as they pursue those opportunities in particular because we know that they’re not only jobs, but high-paying jobs,” Olszewski said.