Vir­ginia-based util­i­ty com­pa­ny Domin­ion Ener­gy is build­ing a mas­sive ship to install off­shore wind turbines.

The pow­er com­pa­ny, off­shore wind devel­op­ers, and clean ener­gy advo­cates say con­struc­tion of the ves­sel, which will be sea-ready in 2023, will be a water­shed move for the off­shore wind industry.

The 472-foot ship being built in Texas will be the first U.S.-flagged off­shore wind instal­la­tion ves­sel. Impor­tant­ly, that means the ship will com­ply with the Jones Act, a cen­tu­ry-old law that requires ships mov­ing U.S. goods between U.S. ports to be built and crewed domestically.

Because there have been no U.S.-flagged instal­la­tion ves­sels to date, devel­op­ers of the few off­shore wind pilot projects off the East Coast have had to find com­plex workarounds to move the mas­sive tur­bine parts from port to the off­shore lease areas where they are installed.

For its two-tur­bine pilot project, Domin­ion shipped the tur­bines from where they were man­u­fac­tured in Europe to Cana­da before pick­ing them up to trans­port down to the Vir­ginia Beach waters to avoid stag­ing in a U.S. port, said Mark Mitchell, senior vice pres­i­dent of project construction.

While workarounds like that are man­age­able for the hand­ful of tur­bines the Unit­ed States has in the water right now, it like­ly won’t be suf­fi­cient to scale the indus­try to the lev­el that util­i­ties, devel­op­ers, states, and the Biden admin­is­tra­tion all want it to reach.

The way that you build a two-tur­bine or five-tur­bine project is a lot dif­fer­ent than how you build a 60‑, 80‑, 120-tur­bine project. You can’t do some of the gym­nas­tics you might be able to do with a small­er project,” said Claire Rich­er, fed­er­al affairs direc­tor with the Amer­i­can Clean Pow­er Association.

Biden has called on the U.S. to deploy 30 gigawatts of off­shore wind by 2030, a mas­sive scale com­pared to the 42 megawatts of tur­bines cur­rent­ly in the water. Col­lec­tive­ly, states up and down the East Coast have already issued pro­cure­ments for near­ly 30 GW of off­shore wind by 2035.

Util­i­ties have com­mer­cial projects many times the scale of the two U.S. pilot projects in the works. For exam­ple, Domin­ion has two rough­ly 600-foot pilot tur­bines oper­at­ing off the coast of Vir­ginia Beach, but it has plans to build 180 tur­bines by 2026, each 200 feet taller than the pilot project.

With­out the Domin­ion ves­sel, the util­i­ty and oth­er off­shore wind devel­op­ers would like­ly have to use U.S. feed­er barges to load tur­bine parts at ports, trans­port them out to sea to a for­eign-flagged instal­la­tion ves­sel, and load them onto that ves­sel all before con­struc­tion can begin.

Hav­ing a U.S.-flagged ves­sel “great­ly sim­pli­fies the con­struc­tion process off­shore,” said Michael Ausere, vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness devel­op­ment for Ever­source Energy.

Ever­source Ener­gy, along with Orsted, agreed to be the first char­ter for Dominion’s ship, installing the tur­bines for the com­pa­nies’ joint Rev­o­lu­tion Wind and Sun­rise Wind projects. Off the coast of New Eng­land, those projects will pow­er near­ly 1 mil­lion homes in Rhode Island, Con­necti­cut, and New York.

Indeed, the feed­er barge approach “has nev­er real­ly been tried at scale before,” said Fran­cis Slings­by, Orsted’s head of com­mer­cial and mar­ket devel­op­ment for U.S. off­shore. Orsted has installed more than 1,000 off­shore wind tur­bines glob­al­ly, and Slings­by called the instal­la­tion ves­sels a “tried and test­ed solution.”

After the ves­sel ser­vices the Ever­source and Orsted projects, it will ser­vice the con­struc­tion of Dominion’s com­mer­cial project off the coast of Vir­ginia Beach, which it expects to pow­er 660,000 homes.

In total, Domin­ion Ener­gy is spend­ing rough­ly $500 mil­lion to build the instal­la­tion ves­sel. The util­i­ty says build­ing the ship will employ 1,000 work­ers in Texas at peak con­struc­tion. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment for the still-bur­geon­ing off­shore wind indus­try in the U.S.

I think it goes to show how the mar­ket for off­shore wind is real­ly build­ing and how there’s a lot of con­fi­dence build­ing up in the mar­ket right now,” Rich­er said.

A U.S.-flagged instal­la­tion ves­sel will also direct more invest­ment to port infra­struc­ture, as East Coast states jock­ey to become off­shore wind hubs.

The home­port of Dominion’s ves­sel will be Hamp­ton Roads, Vir­ginia, already a hub of the mar­itime indus­try and the largest Navy base. Dominion’s project man­agers see an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Hamp­ton Roads to become a nerve cen­ter for off­shore wind.

In addi­tion, Domin­ion offi­cials say the U.S.-flagged instal­la­tion ves­sel will help dri­ve even greater invest­ment in the U.S. off­shore wind indus­try, rather than leav­ing Europe or Chi­na as the dom­i­nant player.

When we look at the sup­ply chains for solar, which in the U.S. has been deployed to a greater degree than off­shore wind, we don’t want to repli­cate that sup­ply chain that is almost entire­ly non‑U.S. based,” said Katharine Bond, Dominion’s vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­i­cy and state affairs.

We want to make sure we max­i­mize the domes­tic sup­ply chain ben­e­fits as we deploy off­shore wind and bring with it so many oth­er ben­e­fits, envi­ron­men­tal and oth­er­wise,” she added.