Adjusting the Sails to Advance Wind Energy

Amid temporary market turbulence, the wind industry focuses on building resilient infrastructure and a sustainable supply chain.

The thing to remember about the wind is that it does not blow at a steady rate. While overall wind patterns are predictable, its intensity and direction are ever-changing.

The wind energy market operates under similar principles.

U.S. wind power has blown strong in recent years, growing by more than 60% since 2017. Wind generation accounted for 22% of new electricity capacity installed in the United States in 2022 alone, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports. Additionally, the EIA forecasts that approximately 12% of all U.S. power will be generated via wind in 2024. Globally, wind generation remains the leading non-hydro renewable technology, generating almost as much as all the other renewables combined. Wind and other renewables are now on track to collectively surpass natural gas and become the predominant U.S. energy source by 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wind generation accounted for 22% of new electricity capacity installed in the United States in 2022 alone, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports.

All are signs of the important role that wind power — both on land and offshore — plays in the global transformation to a low-carbon economy. With increasing numbers of companies seeking green energy solutions that support their sustainability, net neutrality and electrification goals, energy companies cannot retire legacy power sources and replace baseload generation with wind and other renewables fast enough.

“It wasn’t too many years ago that there were more renewable projects ready to be constructed than demand for renewable power,” says Brandon Storm, wind power advisory director for 1898 & Co., the business, technology and security consulting arm of Burns & McDonnell. “But supply and demand have flipped. There is now more demand for renewable energy than we can bring online.”

Changing Winds

If you follow wind energy headlines, however, you have likely noticed a recent shift in the industry. The clean energy project incentives offered in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have been more than offset by supply chain issues, higher interest rates, extended permitting timelines and other challenges that have raised the cost of both onshore and offshore wind development. That has led to temporary delays and cancellations of several projects in the U.S. Wind energy projects elsewhere also have been delayed due to similar challenges.

This comes as no surprise to Tony Appleton, who spent more than a decade developing the European offshore wind market before joining Burns & McDonnell as offshore wind director in 2018. Burns & McDonnell is supporting about 80% of current U.S. offshore wind projects, Appleton says.

“It’s like if you were to order a new car six months in advance of its release — but by the time you go to pick it up, the cost to build the car has gone up and the manufacturer cannot afford to sell it at a loss," Appleton says, noting that some offshore wind developers were in a similar position if they bid their power purchase agreement prior to the current inflation, price increases and supply chain shortages.

“In addition to cost increases, we are also seeing the growing pains of a nascent industry in a country that is, in reality, still relatively new to the offshore sector,” he says. “Every few years, the offshore wind industry overheats and experiences a pregnant pause. Then parties figure out a way around current obstacles and development proceeds.”

Meanwhile, some projects — both onshore and offshore — continue moving forward, particularly those started before the quagmire of supply chain and macroeconomic factors hit. In many cases, these projects offer a view into the opportunities and challenges the industry now faces as it builds out its supply chain and infrastructure.

CS Wind: Doubling the Supply of Critical Equipment

One such project is in Pueblo, Colorado, where construction is underway on a nearly 900,000-square-foot expansion to the world’s largest manufacturing plant for onshore wind towers.

Under an engineer-procure-construct (EPC) contract, Burns & McDonnell is designing, building and assisting with environmental permitting on the eight-building complex for CS Wind. 1898 & Co. is also assisting CS Wind with siting additional wind turbines on its land to help power the facility. The South Korean-based company operates similar manufacturing sites in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The Pueblo plant supplies North American onshore wind developers with the massive steel towers upon which huge turbine blades are mounted. Nearly one in three wind turbine towers operating in North America were produced at the plant, which plans to meet future demand by doubling its production.

The existing plant’s central location in the middle of the U.S. next to a 140-year-old steel mill and two railroad lines is no accident.

“Pueblo is flush with skilled steelworker labor," says Bryan Allen, senior EPC project manager at Burns & McDonnell. Such labor is essential to an operation that is expected to add 850 new jobs to the local economy. Access to the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail lines is also important because tower construction is driven by transportation logistics.

“It takes three to five steel sections to create a tower to accommodate today’s taller, more powerful turbines,” Allen says. “Each section can be up to 36 meters long and weigh as much as 120 tons. That is as much as a rail car or tractor trailer can hold.”

The project's first phase involves construction of new production facilities to form and weld wind tower sections. The initial phase costs approximately $200 million and is slated for completion in 2025, with two more phases planned afterward. Burns & McDonnell also has a strategic alliance with CS Wind's newest acquisition, Bladt Industries, to provide steel foundation components for U.S. offshore wind projects.

South Fork Wind: Connecting Offshore Wind to the Onshore Grid

Manufacturing, transporting and installing the components for a new wind development — especially one built offshore — poses one set of challenges. Transmitting the power — again, especially from offshore to onshore — and injecting it into the electric power grid poses another.

Consider South Fork Wind, a new 132-megawatt (MW) offshore wind installation that's under construction off the coast of New York State. Built through a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource Energy, New England's largest energy delivery company, South Fork is the first offshore wind installation supporting the state of New York. It began producing power in late 2023, when the first of its 12 turbines came online.

When fully operational, South Fork will generate enough renewable energy to power approximately 70,000 homes in New York. This power is brought onshore through a submarine cable that makes landfall in East Hampton. From there, it travels underground, crossing through seaside communities and paralleling the busy Long Island railroad before connecting to the New York state grid.

That 4.5-mile onshore journey presented complex design, construction and public engagement challenges, says Vinny Montemurro, project manager at Burns & McDonnell. Under a contract with Eversource, Burns & McDonnell served as the program manager responsible for executing the onshore portion of the project scope. Its team includes professionals in project management, construction management, community outreach and project controls.

The project was held to a wide array of compliance conditions during construction that dictated, for example, the protection and restoration of rare, threatened and endangered plant species as well as time-of-year construction conditions, Montemurro says. Engineers also took steps to increase grid reliability at the interconnection point where power from the offshore facility is delivered to the grid.

“You can build a wind farm and transport the power, but it will be turned off if the grid is full or unstable,” Storm says. In this case, the addition of a static synchronous compensator device is one of several design solutions helping to regulate voltage and enhance stability at the point of interconnection.

Applying Lessons From Experience

As U.S. offshore wind industry leaders look for ways to break the current development bottleneck, some are applying lessons learned in Europe and other places further down the renewable energy path.

“Right now, offshore developers in the U.S. are under pressure to purchase materials from local sources,” Appleton says. “States are learning that having their own complete supply chain is perhaps not the most cost-effective way of doing things. They’re discovering that a more collaborative regional or national approach might be more efficient.”

More standardization on permitting requirements and offshore wind farm design, Appleton says, could also help streamline development and reduce costs.

Onshore developers are also adapting their approaches to current market conditions. Flexibility is key, Storm says: “You don’t necessarily know what turbines and other equipment will be available when you’re ready to begin construction, so development designs must be flexible enough to accommodate different-sized platforms without incurring reengineering and permitting costs.”

More targeted approaches to site selection, due diligence and resource assessment are also critical, Storm says: “Screening potential development or interconnection sites for endangered species or permitting issues can help minimize the environmental concerns that might slow down a project.”



Globally, wind generation remains the leading non-hydro renewable technology, generating almost as much as all the other renewables combined.



With the increasing height of turbines, airspace issues also deserve more attention early in the development process, he says. Airspace above 200 feet is federally protected, and some turbines are now as much as 690 feet tall, requiring approval from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the DOD (Department of Defense). As more wind turbines are installed, their cumulative impacts are being scrutinized, lengthening the time it takes to obtain approvals.

To help lower the cost of wind power, some developers are setting their sights on repowering wind projects that are approaching the end of their useful life.

“The tax credits on some projects with a 20-year life span are expiring, and developers are repowering them with more efficient turbines that are eligible for new tax credits,” Storm says. “Repowering will be a big deal over the next five years and beyond.”

In some instances, developers may replace just the generator and blades. Others may choose to conduct assessments of their technology, finances and production needs to determine the best way to move forward, which could include installing all new foundations and towers as well.

“It doesn’t always make sense to increase power generation or turbine characteristics,” Storm says. “A repowered plant that adds capacity may require a new permit or a new interconnection, either of which can impact the cost of the power produced.”

Wielding a Finger to the Wind

Although the wind industry has experienced significant growth during the past decade, development has been delayed by supply chain issues, higher interest rates and extended permitting timelines. Industry leaders within the U.S. can leverage the experience of European counterparts by prioritizing collaboration, standardization of permitting, and flexibility to maintain momentum and navigate the complexities of a sector that continues to evolve.

“The U.S. has a real opportunity to be at the top of the wind industry,” Appleton says. “Through collaboration and smart decision-making, we can build the transmission infrastructure and robust domestic supply chain we need to gain competitive advantages in the years ahead.”

The U.S. wind industry, in other words, cannot direct the wind. But to achieve the nation’s clean energy goals, it can — and must — adjust the sails.

Thought Leader

Bryan Allen

Senior EPC Project Manager
Burns & McDonnell

Tony Appleton

Offshore Wind Director, Burns & McDonnell
Burns & McDonnell

Vinny Montemurro

Offshore Wind Project Manager
Burns & McDonnell

Brandon Storm

Wind Power Advisory Director, 1898 & Co.
Burns & McDonnell