Offshore Wind Marshaling: Argentia vs Novaporte

I have found an excellent way to evaluate what port promoter Albert Barbusci told an audience at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre last Thursday—namely, that he was on his way to Baltimore to convince “three or four” American wind developers to store the massive components for their offshore wind turbines at the offshore wind marshaling hub he will begin building in Sydney later this year and open for business in 2026.

Artist's rendering of a dock

No word of lie: the image Novaporte gave the Post of its proposed wind marshaling facility.

All we have to do is compare Barbusci’s latest dream to what is actually happening at the Port of Argentia, in Placentia, Newfoundland. (Thanks to Peter Ziobrowski at the Halifax Shipping News for alerting me to these developments.) Argentia has landed not one but two contracts to store “monopiles”—the large, steel cylinders that form the bases of offshore wind turbines—en route from Europe to offshore wind projects off the coast of the eastern United States, and with them the right to bill itself as the first monopile marshaling port in North America.

I’m going to break it down piece by piece (like an offshore wind turbine) but first, let’s consider the opportunity Barbusci—and Membertou Chief Terry Paul, who told the CBC’s Tom Ayers the band has doubled its stake in Novaporte from one-eighth to one quarter—hope to capitalize on.


Big wind

In March 2021, US President Joe Biden:

..convened leaders from across the Administration to announce a set of bold actions that will catalyze offshore wind energy, strengthen the domestic supply chain, and create good-paying, union jobs.

The Biden administration hopes to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy in the United States by 2030 and 110 gigawatts by 2050. In addition, according to this 2022 study by Sara B. Parkison and Willett Kempton, States along the east coast plan (or have actually committed) to producing as much as 40 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2040.

Deploying all this wind power means installing a lot of offshore turbines. According to this “supply chain road map” released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NERL, an arm of the US Department of Energy) in January, generating Biden’s 30 GW of power will require over 2,100 offshore wind turbines.

The NERL report states:

There is widespread agreement that a domestic supply chain will be critical for the sustainable growth of offshore wind energy in the United States; however, there is a general uncertainty about the scope of such a supply chain, the development time frames needed to build critical resources, the level of investment required, the potential benefits that will be available to local communities and workers, and the significance of gaps in existing manufacturing, port, vessel, or workforce infrastructure on deployment targets.

Parkison and Kempton focus specifically on the gap in port infrastructure, finding that the planned marshaling area—where huge turbine components are stored and from where they are shipped—is “insufficient to meet firm demand as of 2023” and will meet “less than half of projected demand through 2050.”

Remember, Biden was very clear that in addition to “catalyzing” offshore wind energy, the plan is intended to “strengthen the domestic supply chain, and create good-paying, union jobs.” (He doesn’t say “for Americans,” but I think we can safely understand him to mean “for Americans.”) And that entire NERL report attempts to determine what that would mean in terms of spending (and time).

You obviously don’t strengthen the domestic US supply chain or create good-paying, union jobs in America by importing European wind turbine components via a Canadian wind marshaling port, but this seems to be one of the only options for installing offshore wind turbines in the short-term, which means there is an opportunity here for an east coast Canadian port to exploit.

So, how did our competing ports approach this opportunity?


Step One (Argentia)

Scott Penney told the CBC’s Martin Jones that in April 2020, four days after he’d taken the job as CEO of the Port of Argentia, he got a call from Husky Energy telling him they were canceling the West White Rose project, a planned extension to the White Rose oil field in offshore Newfoundland that had included major construction—at the time nearly 60% complete—at the Port of Argentia.

Photo of a 145-metre-high concrete gravity structure, being built at the Port of Argentia, Newfoundland.Penney says that the end of the Husky project combined with COVID had him and his management team looking for other ways to “drive revenue” at a port that had pinned pretty much all its hopes on the oil and gas industry.

He said they did a lot of reading and realized that Biden’s 2021 announcement represented a “significant opportunity” for Argentia. As the US “started to scramble” to “invest in port infrastructure, invest in fabrication and the manufacturing of these turbines,” Penney told Martin the Americans, “very quickly realized there was a deficiency and the deficiency was: port availability.”

Penney and his team “reached out” to some of the bigger companies around the world doing the work of transporting and installing offshore wind turbines—companies like the Netherlands-based Boskalis, and Tideway, a subsidiary of Belgium’s DEME—and in January 2022, landed a first contract with an unnamed German company to store turbine components destined for a project off the east coast of the United States. (Penney preserves CBRM-esque levels of secrecy around the identity of the contractor Argentia is working with and the locations of the wind projects.)

The Port didn’t announce this contract publicly until August 2022, by which point it was busy capitalizing on the initial deal—which involved the contractor spending $7 million to prepare the site—to land a second contract, which it did in December 2022. This second deal, which seems to involve the same contractor supplying a different offshore wind project, brought another $3 million in spending on the Port itself and was announced publicly on 14 March 2023.


Step One (Novaporte)

Albert Barbusci, by his own admission, clued into the opportunity represented by offshore US wind energy in September 2022, that is, over a year after Biden’s announcement, when he was approached by “an international offshore wind developer.”

Presumably, this is Blue Water Shipping, although the Danish company bills itself as a logistics and shipping company, not an offshore wind developer. Here’s how it describes its offshore renewables services:

Our services comprise specialised short and deep sea solutions, including haulage from factory to site for turbines, solar power cells, foundations, cables and other components. Furthermore, our specialist teams arrange hotel accommodation vessels as well as transfer, support and service vessels.

In the start-up phase of a renewables project, our project experts make pre-planning and pre-surveys of ports, roads and sites to make sure the your cargo will reach the destination safely and in good condition.

By way of comparison, DEME, one of the companies Penney said they’d reached out to, lists the following areas of expertise in the field of floating offshore wind:

  • Engineering
  • Full EPCI [Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Installation] contracting 
  • Design and Engineering
  • Mooring installation
  • Cable installation
  • Wind Turbine Generator installation
  • Logistic services/base port management

Having connected with Blue Water (which, interestingly, has its only Canadian office in St. John’s and which, as I am writing this on March 28, has not posted anything about Novaporte on its website, although it does have a Canadian story about one of its employees completing an “extreme ultra race” in the Yukon), Barbusci added a section to the Novaporte website labeled “Offshore Wind Marshalling and Green Energy” which states:

Offshore wind marshalling (OSW) will help North America achieve its carbon emissions goals, provide significant employment and economic opportunities, and introduce and establish a new industry within Canada. In short, OSW helps transform Novaporte into a strategic hub for the local community and the nation.

He then called a press conference and issued a press release stating that Novaporte was about to become an offshore wind marshaling port and the local press obliged with headlines like this one in the Post:

Winds of change: Offshore wind marshalling yard coming to Cape Breton port


The Assets (Argentia)

In addition to being an actual, functioning port Argentia, according to Penney, also boasts “a large dock, deep water ” and 30 hectares of land, 70 of which are paved runway, a relic of Argentia’s origins as a WWII American naval base.

Speaking with Martin Jones, Penney said that the land to be used for the laydown area (12 acres in total) had “tremendous ground bearing pressure” which, he noted, along with proximity to quayside, was one of the keys to being a marshaling area for monopiles, each of which weighs 2,800 tonnes.

The preparatory work funded by the contractor includes:

…infrastructure improvements including road widening, burying of utility lines inside the marine terminal, creation of 3-acres of new laydown lands adjacent to docking facilities, repositioning of smaller service buildings, and installation of fencing and security cameras.

Penney told Martin that in addition to widening the roads, they are filling them with blasted rock to give them “the ground bearing pressure to be able to carry these things.”


The Assets (Novaporte)

Novaporte is not a functioning port.

It consists of what we used to call “the greenfield site,” a waterfront property created out of material dredged from Sydney harbor in 2012. Back in 2018, the Port had to pay JonelJim construction $68,990 to deal with a section of the site that was actually eroding.

Given that construction of the NSCC Sydney Waterfront Campus on infill on the other side of the harbor required the builder to first drive 800 piles into the property, I think it’s fair to ask if the Novaporte “land” is actually up to the task of storing 2,800-tonne wind turbine components.

Barbusci clearly thinks so—his other addition to the Novaporte website was a section labeled “Offshore Wind Marshalling Port,” that states:

 200 acres of flat, waterside industrial land and a 350-metre front-facing quay wall with a bearing capacity of 20 tonne/m2, plus Mediterranean stern mooring allowing for stern RORO and a LOLO for a second vessel.

As is his wont, Barbusci speaks, via his website, of these facilities as though they actually exist and are not just a gleam in his increasingly mad-looking eyes:

Albert Barbusci

Albert Barbusci having a vision. (Source: Cape Breton Post)


The Plan (Argentia)

Penney told Saltwire the monopiles would be brought from Europe by ship, then transported to a bonded storage area in the Argentia Northside Industrial Area by self propelled modular transporters or SPMTs (which help explain, I think, why the project is expected to create a rather meager 20 jobs) where they would be stored until picked up for transport to the project location.

Mammoet self-propelled modular transporter.

Mammoet self-propelled modular transporter.


The Plan (Novaporte)

Here are the details I was able to glean from a report by the CBC’s Tom Ayers:

  • Novaporte plans to build a facility on Cape Breton Regional Municipality land that will import parts for large offshore wind turbines.
  • Novaporte will build a dock and laydown area on part of CBRM’s contained disposal site.
  • [T]he wind turbine facility will be operated by Blue Water Shipping of Denmark, a company with 25 years experience in European offshore wind logistics.
  • Ships [will] deliver the large parts for storage and then companies building offshore wind farms [will] pick up the parts and assemble them at sea…

In other words, Novaporte will do exactly what the Port of Argentia is doing without the benefit of Argentia’s pre-existing  infrastructure.


Community benefit (Argentia)

Penney told the CBC that “one of the great things” about the Port of Argentia is that it works “very closely” with the Town of Placentia:

[W]e really believe in our community, so we contribute back 20% of our gross revenues so, we’re funneling that back to the town, we believe that to be very important in helping them with their infrastructure and programs and socio-economic development.

In return, he says, they hope Placentia will attract residents because the Port needs “young, skilled workers” both for the offshore wind project and other opportunities.


Community benefit (Novaporte)

Novaporte is a private development that, to date, has cost the CBRM more than it has returned. Between 2017 and 2018, the Port of Sydney spent over $1 million helping Barbusci promote the port (unsuccessfully) as a potential container terminal site.

Although there is no talk of the port ever contributing some portion of its revenues to the CBRM, Chief Terry Paul told the Post:

It’s going to attract a lot of people to the island, and more importantly, it’ll bring back our children who had to go away to find work. I’m absolutely so excited … it’s an amazing opportunity that we’re able to land here.


Costs (Argentia)

As noted above, the offshore wind contractor using the Port of Argentia is investing $10 million to make the facility fit for purpose.


Costs (Novaporte)

Novaporte VP of Operations Kathleen Yurchesyn told the Post the “first phase” of the Novaporte project, which will involve the preparation of 200 acres of flat, waterside industrial land and the construction of a 350-metre front-facing quay with bearing capacity of 20 tonne/m2, will cost about $200 million. She did not say where this money will come from.

(The NERL report I quoted earlier said building a marshaling port from scratch could cost up to US$400 million, that’s roughly CAD$550 million).

Barbusci added:

We will also have the assembly lines. We will be building floating stations onshore and floating them out. Then we will have towers in the water, being maintained, and that energy has to come to shore.

So, correction, Novaporte will do even more than Argentia is doing without the benefit of any of the pre-existing infrastructure.


What the Mayor said (Argentia)

“There’s more people who will be looking to do storage and lay downs with regards to windmills.… The Port of Argentia will probably reshape itself, reinventing itself probably, over the next three or four years,”–Placentia Mayor Keith Pearson, 11 August 2022


What the Mayor said (Novaporte)

“This is our time. This is our opportunity to lead, but also a time to create a pretty incredible legacy,” — CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill, 23 March 2023


Last words (Argentia)

“We’ve got a partner that’s invested in our port now, significantly an international partner, and they are aggressively chasing more and more work and we’re right alongside them”—Port of Argentia CEO Scott Penney, 11 August 2022


Last words (Novaporte)

“We’re off to Baltimore next week, we just announced it, so the industry at large will know who we are,”–Albert Barbusci, 23 March 2023

“We want to attract three or four of the U.S. developers by the time Nova Scotia [offshore wind energy] kicks off,” Albert Barbusci, 23 March 2023