Energy: Insights from Maddy Urbish of Ørsted N.J.

Head of government affairs and market strategy for Ørsted New Jersey had a lot to say at our recent panel discussion. Here are some highlights

On the recent whale strandings at the Shore

It’s been very upsetting to see the number of whale deaths in a relatively short period of time.  Unfortunately, these numbers are not necessarily out of scope with what we have seen in this region and up and down the East Coast over the last 10 years. 

There’s a good amount of science already out there. We know a number of factors could be contributing to it, including certain fish patterns, the warmth of the water, the fact that we have a lot more whales, which is the good news, because we’ve been able to clean up our oceans. The whales seem to be coming closer to shore and more in line with quite a bit of vessel traffic. We have a very busy coast here — and, now, we have more whales. And, unfortunately, we’re seeing more impacts because of that.

We have three independent federal agencies with some of the best scientists in the world working for them that have been very clear that there’s no evidence that these unfortunate whale deaths are connected to offshore wind in any way. The claims that are being made by some groups, that are already historically opposed to offshore wind, really are clearly a red herring. And it’s focused on advancing their agenda to stop offshore wind.

On the progress of Ocean Wind I project

It was awarded by the state in June of 2019 and we’re getting very close to construction at this point. We are more than halfway through the permitting process, getting all the necessary approvals from federal, state and local agencies.

We are awaiting what would be a final environmental impact statement from the federal government from BOEM (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management). We are hoping to receive our permits in the middle to late summer, with construction being able to start as early as this fall.

On building the offshore wind industry in the U.S.

It is in a very different stage in Europe. Climate policy and clean energy are not political issues there. So, the ability to move fast is sort of empowered by that, because it doesn’t get tied up in any partisan politics. 

Also, the way that governments are structured there, building infrastructure is not quite as challenging as it is here. 

It’s a new industry here in the U.S. My company and others have lots of experience in other parts of the world, largely in Europe, in the U.K., but it’s a different market and it’s a different regulatory structure. We have definitely come across a number of challenges both expected and not expected. 

On grid capacity concerns

Whenever I’m on a panel and I’m asked what keeps me up at night, it’s the grid. The grid makes me very nervous, because our current grid that we are part of, PJM, which is a multistate grid, has not really caught up with the changes in technology yet. They’re getting there, and they’re going through a process now reforming how they regulate some of their own sort of processes. But, I’m a little bit concerned about the capacity to meet the needs of electric vehicles, and we are very supportive of transitioning to electric vehicles. 

On alternative energy initiatives

Ørsted has a partnership with Maersk down in the Gulf, where we’re looking at e-fuels, using our renewable energy sources as a way to power the different electrolysers that could create the fuels for Maersk ships. So, we’re absolutely looking into sort of all-of-the-above strategy to find cleaner fuels for types of transportation that we need. 

On the speed in which the offshore wind industry is developing

There sometimes has been a rhetoric about too much, too fast, but it’s a long process. We won our award for Ocean Wind I in 2019 — and we had owned that offshore lease for many years before that. We are just getting to the point where we may be able to begin construction in 2023. These are large-scale infrastructure projects, and large-scale infrastructure takes a long time to build. It’s complex, and you need to do it right. It requires the expertise that the operating engineers and other folks in labor have to use very specialized equipment.

So, it’s logistically challenging to build large-scale energy infrastructure, not to mention the fact that nobody ever wants large-scale infrastructure in their backyard or going through their community. That’s another aspect of this, making sure that you’re working with the communities and communicating with folks.

On the need for federal assistance

There are a lot of logistical challenges to building large-scale infrastructure offshore in the South and bringing it onshore and connecting to where the demand is, in the North. It’s really going to require some real planning. This is infrastructure. This is something that requires federal planning. We do a lot of federal planning and investment on other types of infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, trains. I don’t know why we don’t apply the same standard to the energy infrastructure that is absolutely essential to the way that our society runs nowadays. 

That’s something that I think is going to be really key. And, hopefully, it’s something that we’ll start to see more of. I know that the U.S. Department of Energy has been putting out different grant and loan opportunities. But, what we really need is not a state-by-state, region-by-region approach. We really need a whole national, countrywide approach on how we’re planning our energy future.

Editor’s note: Since few people speak in grammatically correct sentences, we edited their responses for readability purposes