Duluth sets record for wind energy cargoes in 2020

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(WASHINGTON) — Like other American ports across the Great Lakes, the Port of Duluth-Superior witnessed an increase in wind cargo arrivals this shipping season, as well as a boost in agricultural exports. The grain gains were modest in Duluth-Superior – tracking 1 to 2 percent ahead of the 2019 pace and the five-season average – but the wind cargo uptick was more pronounced.

“It was a record-setting season for wind energy cargoes in Duluth,” said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “In fact, it was our second consecutive record-setting season for that particular type of cargo.”

The Port of Duluth-Superior welcomed 30 oceangoing ships with wind cargoes in 2020, sailing from eight countries: Brazil, Germany, India, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Spain and Turkey. These shipments included the longest blades (242 feet) and highest towers (100 feet) ever handled in Duluth. In total, the port received 525,000 freight tons of wind cargoes in 2020, easily eclipsing 2019’s mark of 306,000 freight tons. Collectively, the components will assemble 154 wind turbines across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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Pulitzer Center photo

“The fact that we were able to handle this record-setting volume of wind cargo this year didn’t happen by accident,” said DeLuca. “It’s a testament to years of hard work.”

The Port of Duluth-Superior has been a significant economic driver in its region for over 150 years. Its advantageous geographical location allows shippers (from anywhere in the world) to efficiently move cargo directly to America’s heartland. This has played a major role in the port’s success with wind cargo movement.

Long before the port’s formal establishment, its location served as a natural hub and trading post for fur traders and indigenous peoples due to Minnesota Point – the largest natural breakwater on the Great Lakes.

In present day, the port is situated along the world’s longest freshwater sandbar, comprised of Minnesota Point’s seven-mile span and the three-mile Wisconsin Point. This shelters the Great Lakes’ westernmost port.

“Being North America’s furthest-inland seaport really lends well to Duluth being the Midwest hub for wind cargo arrivals,” said DeLuca. “The fact that cargo can sail so far inland – some 2,038 nautical miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth – is very advantageous for shippers.”

In addition to being North America’s furthest-inland seaport, the Port of Duluth-Superior is the heaviest lift port on the Great Lakes – another advantage that directly supports the port as a major wind cargo hub.

“We started receiving wind cargo in 2006, and our facility has grown dramatically in the years since,” said DeLuca. “In order to be a premier wind cargo hub, we invested a lot into our Clure Public Marine Terminal.”

A major contribution to the port’s ability to set a single season record for wind cargo in 2019, and then eclipse that record in 2020, was the port authority’s substantial infrastructure investment. That included an $18 million rehabilitation and modernization of a dilapidated dock, a project that added 26 acres of modern outdoor storage space with road and on-dock rail access, as well as two new Seaway-depth berths and a roll-on/roll-off dock. In 2017, the port authority added a 300-ton lift mobile crane to complement the terminal’s existing Duluth-built 90-ton twin gantry cranes and fleet of heavy-lift vehicles.

“Those improvements, expansions and additions were instrumental in helping us handle the wind cargoes and move them efficiently to wind installations throughout the Upper Midwest and beyond,” said DeLuca.

In addition to those investments, the port authority plans to invest an additional $26 million over the next three years to further fortify Duluth-Superior’s multimodal logistics hub.

– Great Lakes Seaway Partnership

By Professional Mariner Staff