Thursday, December 5, 2019

From steel making to windmills: The transformation of Sparrows Point

On a grey and rainy Monday afternoon a large group of entrepreneurs, engineers, attorneys and small business people filed into a conference room at TradePoint Atlantic (TPA) to hear about a brandnew industry taking root on the former steel mill site.
Sparrows Point today. Deep water access, berths, piers, docks and
lots of space.

OSW where the magic words that radiated enough promise to draw almost a hundred people out to listen representatives of  TPA and the wind-industry making a pitch for off-shore wind. What was once Deepwater has been bought by Danish wind giant Orsted which runs the world's oldest off shore windfarm (Vindeby in Denmark) and the largest one (Hornesea in the UK). Orsted's representative showed on a map how well Sparrows Point is located along the Atlantic coast, a place with large wind potential and large energy consumption at the same time, an ideal combination, especially when combined with a large sea shelf offering water depths under 60m. It was less clear what Orsted will actually do on the old steel site in Maryland, obviously more assembly then production, at least initially. The generators will come from GE and the parts for the piles will be shipped from Germany. The representative was a bit circumspect about the blades and controllers. In general, the new jobs would be for shipping, transport and assembly, not quite on par with the high end jobs the steel mill once offered but potentially better than those offered in the large distribution warehouses of Amazon, Under Armor and Floor and Decor which already dot the peninsula. Branded as a "modern intermodal logistics hub" the site is increasingly showing diverse uses, including an organic hydroponic farm and automobile import from large ro-ro ferries that can dock here.
Plenty of interest in wind-power and related jobs and
business opportunities

The last version of the steel making plant that used to be Bethlehem Steel had about 3000 employees. According TradePoint Atlantic there are now about 5000 jobs on site with a planning horizon of 10-15,000 jobs.

The Orsted decision to invest here will add manufacturing and make TradePoint an important hub for the "Skipjack" windfarm project planned off the shores of Ocean City. The project recently ran in unwanted headwinds with the disclosure that the blades would reach higher than originally envisioned, stoking afresh the fears that they would mar the ocean vistas. Skipjack and the MarWin Wind Farm by Baltimore-based U.S. Wind, a subsidiary of the Italian renewable energy company Renexia, are being reviewed in response to concerns raised by Ocean City officials about the farms' impact on tourism to the famous vacation spot. Both submitted updates for taller, more powerful turbines in their offshore leasing areas. Recent wind turbine research shows that capturing wind at higher altitudes yields higher energy returns. However, the ever larger turbines also pose previously unmet challenges for foundations, kinetic energy on the towers and forces the gears of the turbines.
The Skipjack farm is located about 23 miles away from the shore is proposed to use the largest turbines currently on the market, each producing 12 megawatts of power. The 850-foot turbines are about as tall as the New York Rockefeller Center RCA Building, a 70-story skyscraper). The now proposed version is 50% larger than the 8-megawatt turbines originally proposed. Whatever the components, they will be very large. The sites to handle them are currently under construction on the southern end of 4000 acre TPA site.
Deepwater access: Competition or collaboration with the Port of Baltimore?

Sparrows Point and its surroundings offer large scale opportunities for a new economy, but also for sustainability, resilience against climate change and future waterfront recreation. While the world went gaga over new Amazon headquarters what happens at TPA has to date spurred far less public attention than it deserves but may have ultimately a larger impact on this entire region.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The location of the Orsted investment

The eastern seaboard: High energy demand (left), high wind zones (center) and large sea shelves (right)

There are many activities occurring now on TPA (storage, distribution)

Little of the old structures is left. 

A model of the old steel plant is all that left of this particular past

Other articles about TPA on this blog:

The miraculous transformation of 3,250 acres of industrial wasteland

Arugula instead of steel - the next level of innovation?

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