Spotlight On: Joris Veldhoven, Commercial Director, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind

Spotlight On: Joris Veldhoven, Commercial Director, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind

2022-07-13T04:57:34-04:00July 5th, 2022|Economy, South Jersey, Spotlight On, Technology & Innovation|

 

5 min read July 2022 Atlantic Shores is helping to meet growing renewable energy targets and expand the green economy. In an interview with Invest:, Commercial Director Joris Veldhoven discussed milestones and achievements over the past year, prevalent challenges, the current state of the workforce, what makes South Jersey a great place for the expansion of the wind industry, shifts in the market and the future of renewable energy.

What have been some of the key milestones for Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind over the last year?

The last year has been extremely challenging, but we’ve fortunately been very successful. 10 months ago, we were awarded an off-take from the State of New Jersey for a 1.5-gigawatt offshore wind project that will develop clean renewable power. This was a major milestone for Atlantic Shores and we now know that we are going to deliver around 100 to 110 turbines for the state.

That is enough energy to power 700,000 homes and will result in lots of investments and jobs. It also means we guaranteed $848 million of direct investment into the state. This means we will make up any shortfall, but of course that won’t happen.

It also means that union, family-sustaining well-paid jobs are coming to New Jersey in the upcoming years. We expect more than 18,000 full-time jobs over the development, construction and operation phases. If we only consider the construction period that will take place from 2024 to 2027, it will be somewhere around 6,000 jobs.

At the same time, we progressed a lot in permitting and our project maturity overall. Permitting is always a major milestone for every project in the U.S. or globally, and wind farms are no exception. We have done over 35 environmental studies, economic analyses and other types of research for our application to receive federal permits in March of 2021. We are now halfway into those 24 months and hope to finalize the process by the end of next year.

In the meantime, we’re continuously maturing technical and delivery materials for the project as well. We are in talks with suppliers to select the final few options we still have left. We are out on the water doing various geophysical and geotechnical investigations to understand our lease area even better. Lastly, about three months ago, we were one of six companies that were successful in acquiring an additional lease in the record-breaking New York Bight auction. We invested $780 million in this additional space to demonstrate how serious we are about the emerging offshore wind market.

Besides those main highlights, we’ve made a lot of progress in expanding our offices and recruiting people. Three years ago we had 10 to 15 employees – today we have almost 90 people working on our team. This is major growth for an offshore wind developer, and we will continue to build out our employee base. We’ve had a lot of success and have tackled the challenges healthily to set the basis to deliver environmental and economic benefits.

What seem to be the most prevalent challenges that you are dealing with in the company?

Inflation and pricing increases are significantly impacting our industry. Everything that is going on in the world stage, including a horrible war in Ukraine and the ongoing effects of COVID, is affecting us, in addition to supply chain disruptions and shipping rates. Finding talent is also very difficult, especially in growing industries like ours. I think we need to do more to attract and retain the right people. From a company perspective, while we are going through this growth phase, we need to make sure we can find super, high-level caliber people in our industry and also in other industries to meet our trajectory.

How would you describe the strength of the workforce in South Jersey?

One of the reasons we like New Jersey so much is because there are a lot of legacy workers, people who have worked or are working in adjacent industries that can be retrained for the renewable power industry. We have an MOU with six local unions to help us find the right people on the manufacturing side, but that is not yet where we are today. We start the construction phase in 2024, and we have these early partnerships to build on when needed.

We need talent for all kinds of jobs. For example, we currently have people working on vessels as consultants. The good thing about New Jersey is that there are a lot of people that come from adjacent industries, such as manufacturing or offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico, and they can be retrained to work in our industry and their home state.

Where do you think South Jersey stands regarding green initiatives in comparison to other markets?

The visions and leadership of Governor Murphy are top-notch. There would not be an east coast offshore wind industry if it wasn’t for New Jersey playing the leadership role that it is. There are other states that are deeply invested, but New Jersey is one of the major players in the industry across the U.S., and a lot of it is a direct result of the leadership coming both from Trenton and the Governor.

Talking about the climate change goals, we need to decarbonize the grid by 2040. There has been a lot of progress in the last few years by working on the wind port with the EDA. New Jersey is the first state in the U.S. that is looking at a form of centralized transmission to lower the costs and environmental impacts of offshore wind farms. This is all revolutionary. There is a lot of vision on how New Jersey is supporting offshore businesses by pushing the envelope.

How do you think that South Jersey’s reputation is changing as a business market?

The Atlantic Shores project will be the first project with full American-built foundations in the whole industry. It is a milestone for us and the state, and it can be done with our partners inside the region. Those are major steps and people notice it. As a result, it changes the reputation of South Jersey. The area used to be developed around the nuclear facility, but will now be used as a wind port, bringing a visionary industry into the region.

There are challenges and we often worry about them, especially regarding permitting and scheduling. The point is that things are moving forward and every month we are making progress to further strengthen this industry through new facilities that are being constructed in South Jersey. Additionally, I think the community colleges in the region have very productive collaborations with us. We are working to develop multiple studies with local colleges, for example, we are currently co-located on the Stockford campus. We have a lot to be positive about at the moment and we will keep playing our part.

What are some of the challenges that you foresee moving forward?

One of the challenges of any new industry is how to coexist with other users of the same place, in our case the fishermen. They were using the space first. Still, I think it is a good thing that we, as a society, acknowledge that climate change is real and that we must do something about it. We acknowledge it is a problem for ourselves and future generations, and we don’t want to leave those problems for those that come after us. Very few technologies can be deployed at the same scale as offshore wind, and it is renewable power at a scale that is going to make an impact when combating climate change.

We want to have an economic impact while delivering clean power. We identified strategic areas to host offshore wind farms decades ago and we are finally getting to it. So, to collaborate and coexist with fishermen we must ensure them that wind farms will not prevent them from fishing in the area. We will work together with them to explain risks in navigation and safe practices that are done in other countries. Additionally, we can orient the direction of the turbines in a way that is more beneficial to the fisherman. That is not to say that all is solved. There will be problems, but it is about how we realistically deal with them while tackling climate change.

At the moment we are conducting a study with Rutgers University to understand the future impacts of these wind farms on climate operations. Those studies are very important because we and the fisheries agree on the scope of these studies to take the next appropriate steps based on them. I think it is about being a good neighbor, being realistic of the impact that we make without being pessimist or optimist. It will take a couple of years before those turbines are in the water, and many of these fisheries are already moving because the oceans are getting warmer every year. Ultimately, offshore winds will be a force for good.

How will the South Jersey shore shift with the introduction of wind farms?

The realistic answer is that on some days of the year people will be able to see the wind farms. I come from a part of the world where that is already a reality, and people still enjoy going to the beach on the days that you can see them. According to some studies, the turbines will be visible around 30 to 35% of the year depending on the turbines, the particular wind farm and the outcome of the permitting processes. Still, I’m not pessimistic about the impact it will have on tourism or housing prices because I’ve seen it firsthand in my home country.

When I look out my window at home, I see a couple of stacks that emit smoke. I find that quite ugly, but since they’ve been around for more than 100 years some people think of them as normal. I think it is part of the change. What people find novel might often be scary. However, I believe that there are far more unacceptable things that are already around such as poor air quality. I think that having a turbine that has economic, health and environmental benefits is worth it.

We hope that as things get better from a COVID perspective we will be able to work more with kids in primary schools and clubs to help them learn about climate change and the contributions they can make. As in-person activities resume, it will be easier for us to tell our story more clearly and in a better way, which can also impact the way people view the wind farms in the community.

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