GE Renewables must pay European wind turbine maker Siemens Gamesa $30,000 per megawatt in royalties for patent infringement on a technology used in its next generation 12-MW to 14-MW Haliade-X offshore wind turbines, a federal jury in Boston has ruled.
The judgment, in a suit by the German-Spanish manufacturer, would raise the price of GE’s 14-MW turbine by $420,000 and could add $24 million to the cost of turbines being built for the $2.3-billion, 800-MW Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind project in Massachusetts—the first in the U.S. at utility scale.
“GE will likely have to raise its prices and pass the cost of the royalty to customers,” Philip Totaro, CEO of energy analyst IntelStor, told ENR, speculating that the decision could make GE’s turbines less competitive and at risk for market share loss to Siemens Gamesa and Denmark-based turbine maker Vestas. Vineyard Wind 1, which began construction last November, is set to include 62 GE Haliade-X 13-MW wind turbines.
The decision, issued June 14 after a two-week trial in U.S. district court, relates to a patent for a structural support that enables turbines to be scaled up in size, although the jury found that GE had not willfully infringed on the patent and that Siemens Gamesa had not proved damage to profits.
The decision also did not support Siemens Gamesa's claim of infringement on another patent for a method of enhancing direct-drive turbine performance.
As part of the Siemens Gamesa lawsuit, a district court judge also ruled that wind turbines to be installed in federal waters beyond 12 nautical miles remain within U.S. territory, as defined under federal law, and are still subject to U.S. patent law—denying GE's motion for dismissal on the grounds that no violation would occur in U.S. territory.
GE Renewables said it is reviewing its legal options and “remains committed to the U.S. offshore wind market.” The company filed a notice of intent to appeal the day before the verdict was announced.
A Massachusetts Dept. of Energy Resources official, who asked not to be identified, told ENR that the contract price with Vineyard, signed in 2018, will not be renegotiated.
Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, did not return a request for comment.
GE Renewables was more successful in a previous infringement claim it filed against Siemens Gamesa, with the U.S. International Trade Commission ruling in its favor earlier this year related to GE patents for technologies that protect wind turbines from fluctuations in power. GE is also suing Siemens Gamesa for patent infringement for onshore turbine technologies in the U.K. and Germany.
Legal Action Common
Totaro says legal action related to patent infringement is common among original equipment manufacturers and a “mechanism to get people to shift preference to a different vendor.” He notes, for example, a Dutch court ruling in April that an infringement claim by international heavy lift and transport firm Mammoet Holdings against Dutch and Danish crane makers relating to a 3,000-metric ton ringer crane was unsubstantiated and unlawful. The court also ordered it to issue a public retraction.
The crane, which the company said June 20 is now being manufactured, will be used for the largest onshore and offshore wind turbine installations. It can lift components of 1,200 metric tons at heights of up to 225 meters, and heavier structures at a reduced height.
In a tweet, Brendan Andrews, vice president of energy and industry for Bureau Veritas, said “This certainly won't be the last of this type of litigation. Unknown patents are out there, both onshore and offshore, and I am sure the lawyers are ready to bring more expensive surprises to the market.”
Other Project Impacts?
The Haliade-X decision comes as other U.S. projects set to feature that GE turbine move forward, with more potential impact, says Totaro.
Danish developer Ørsted also said earlier it had selected the GE turbine for the 1,100-MW Ocean Wind project to be built off the southern New Jersey coast and for the 120-MW Skipjack project off Maryland, but it is not clear whether final contracts have been signed.
The U.S. Interior Dept. on June 21 issued a draft environmental impact statement for Ocean Wind, which is being developed with utility PSEG. A public comment period begins June 24 and ends August 8.
The project involves installation of up to 98 Haliade-X wind turbines and construction of as many as three offshore substations with export cables taking power to a closed 450-MW coal-fired power plant and to a decommissioned 652-MW nuclear facility.
If all 98 turbines are installed, the estimated capacity will range from 1,215 MW to 1,440 MW.
Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. and JINGOLI Power were contracted in April to install two high-voltage substations, along with almost nine miles of underground cable. Construction is expected to start in September 2023.
Ørsted also has a commitment from GE Renewables to locate what will be one of the country’s first offshore wind turbine nacelle assembly plants in New Jersey, which would serve its regional projects and possibly those of other companies.
The draft review of Ocean Wind found mostly minor to moderate impacts on most environmental resources, such as fish, marine mammals and wetlands, moderate ones on commercial fisheries, but major ones on navigation and vessel traffic.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will contribute independent analyses to meet National Environmental Policy Act compliance requirements, the draft says. The Corps must analyze alternatives to the proposed project, including cable route options.
Ørsted agreed to conduct pre-construction, construction and operations surveys for fish, marine mammals and ocean bottom habitat affected by the project. It plans to begin construction in 2023 and complete it in 2025. Interior has two years to complete the final review.
But the company, and a number of other key offshore wind developers, have termed in a June 22 letter to US Senate leaders as "an existential threat to the future of offshore wind,” language in a House-passed US Coast Guard authorization bill that restricts countries which maritime construction crews can be from in work on projects on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. They want Senators to drop the provision in the final bill.
In a push to boost the U.S. offshore wind supply chain, the U.S. Energy Dept. said on June 22 that it will lead a new effort between the White House and 12 east coast governors to boost offshore wind manufacturing and workforce development, engage with affected stakeholders and “accelerate work to address important regional matters,” such as interstate transmission interconnections.
The Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership includes release, later this year, of an "action plan" to meet needs outlined by DOE earlier this year in supply chain “road map” to achieve U.S. manufacturing of major components by 2030, including manufacturing facilities, installation vessels, workforce requirements and production capabilities. The road map would “identify realistic pathways to achieve this supply chain and determine the readiness of existing industries to support supply chain development,” said the DOE announcement.
Separately, the US Transportation Dept.'s Maritime Administration said on June 23 it is including ships used in offshore wind construction as "Vessels of National Interest," to support U.S. shipyards to build and retrofit vessels and modernize their facilities.
The supply chain push will expand to include governors from the West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico as offshore wind energy projects move forward in those regions, the White House said. Partnership stakeholders will meet in July, DOE said.