AWO’s Carpenter says offshore wind could be the biggest U.S. maritime opportunity “in a generation.”

Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO, American Waterways Operators (AWO) says “Offshore wind has the potential to be the biggest new opportunity for the domestic maritime industry in a generation.”

In an interview with AJOT, Carpenter said: “We need conversations and contracts with wind developers to build the vessels that are needed for this trade.”

Collaboration is key: “I've said before … nobody is going to go out and build a vessel on spec. You can't expect somebody to go out and do that and take a chance … AWO members are getting into this business building vessels, adapting vessels for this market. Others are chomping at the bit to do so. What we really need is to get wind developers and vessel owners together and talk turkey: What are the specs? What do you need? When do you need it?”

She also warned against wind developers who might seek Jones Act waivers to bring foreign built vessels and foreign crews into U.S. waters to do offshore wind work: “There are not going to be Jones Act waivers for somebody who failed to plan and then discovered: ‘I need U.S. built. I need crew transfer vessels. I guess I need U.S. crewed feeder barges ... And so, make plans now so that you have what you need when you need it.’”

Carpenter noted: “We're in the early stages of this development and developers have had to contend with a lot of challenges: inflation and supply chain constraints. And I think it is important to take a realistic look at the US market and say: what do I need here? That starts with the Jones Act, the law of the land. If I'm transporting cargo between U.S. points, that's the Jones Act move. “

There is already work being done on offshore wind issues by AWO members: “We are working … on multiple fronts with the wind developers and with interested AWO members. So, we have member working groups on navigation, safety issues with wind developers and making sure we can all peacefully coexist in the ocean. We've got folks that we consult with as we're dealing with Jones Act or infrastructure issues.”

She said working with elected representatives in the House and Senate is vital: “We are able to all go to Capitol Hill and say, “This is what we need in order to make this a win-win.”

Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO, American Waterways Operators (AWO)

Opposing Unnecessary Jones Act Waivers

Carpenter noted educating elected representatives is an ongoing process to fight unnecessary Jones Act waivers: “We've got a tremendous number of new members of Congress or folks who've served a term or two who are in different committee assignments. Job One is getting in there and introducing them to the Jones Act and making ourselves a resource ... We've got to be constantly … staying ahead of the knowledge curve there so that we're educating folks.”

Stronger language in favor of the Jones Act was enacted in the Defense Authorization Act in 2022: “I think the stronger Jones Act language that we got in the Defense Authorization Act last year is really an important Congressional expression that will restrict the waiver process.”

She said that waivers for the Jones Act are sometimes sought to mask infrastructure problems: “Unnecessary calls for Jones Act waivers … divert attention from underlying issues that are often complex and need to be addressed. One example is whether we need to make sure that Puerto Rico has a reliable energy grid. Another issue is making sure a Jones Act waiver isn’t being used as a pretext because we failed to protect people in New England … facing exorbitant costs to heat their homes in the middle of a cold winter. Neither of those situations has anything to do with the Jones Act.”

‘Acute’ Manning Needs

Carpenter said there is an acute need for new mariners: “It is really important that we not only focus on acute manning needs that we're facing now, and they're acute. I know AWO members in almost every part of the country who have said: ‘There is more work … that I could do if I had the people to crew additional boats.’ So, we've got a near term acute situation, but we've also got this long-term chronic situation. We've got to make sure that we've got a pipeline of people and young people who want to enter this industry.”

AWO’s response is to do more outreach and public education about the opportunities for working for a barge transportation operator: “At the entry level. In some places that higher wage advantage of mariner wages has narrowed with jobs on landside. There is opportunity for advancement once you’ve done time on the water… You can rise through the ranks within a reasonably short period of time…”

There remain serious issues with inclusion and diversity: “So, everything that we are doing and will continue to do as an industry (is) to try to create a more welcoming, inclusive culture, I think this is really important … What we absolutely don't want to do is have a woman or person of color or a person of any ethnic or religious background or an LGBTQ person feel discouraged. We want them to feel like: ‘I'd like to go in this industry.’ We don't want a person who says: ‘I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable in that environment.’”

Reduced Emission Vessels

Reducing emissions for tugs and towboats needs to focus on providing operators with improved emission engines because operators are often in low margin businesses: “I think it's important to consider … funding that assists an operator: ‘Maybe I'm in a low margin business and I'm moving gravel or rock or … dredge material using a lower tier engine.’ Being able to get some funding that helps me upgrade that engine could have real environmental benefits.”

So, for example: “If you've got an old tier one engine, let's get you to a tier three engine that's burning less fuel. And so, therefore, you're still using diesel right now, but you're using less of it and therefore you are reducing your emissions significantly.”

AWO Adopts Sustainability Agenda

Carpenter noted that AWO just had a Board-approved CEO level sustainability task force wrap up its work last month: “Step one is: Let's recognize that barge transportation is a crucial contributor to the overall decarbonization of the transportation system in this country and is an important contributor to increasing environmental sustainability nationwide. The Biden administration just introduced its transportation decarbonization plan and said that marine transportation is an important part of the solution. It is the most environmentally efficient way to move cargo.

Second, infrastructure funding and infrastructure investment really comes into play. Improving the efficiency of the waterway’s infrastructure goes a long way to enhancing its sustainability. So, there's a tremendous amount of opportunity to reduce emissions by not having vessels idling offshore, waiting at a river lock burning fuel while they're not moving cargo. And so that's where infrastructure funding for the waterways, including support for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard, can be helpful.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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