In a sign of changing times induced by climate change, the once largest steel plant in the world will now host an offshore wind turbine factory in the United States of America.

In this regard, $47.4 million has been granted by the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration further to develop the Baltimore County Offshore Wind Manufacturing Hub.

The government funds will be utilized to prepare the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard and the eventual location of Sparrows Point Steel—Maryland’s first permanent offshore wind component factory—to accept large freight. Additionally, funds from the Port Infrastructure Development Program will be utilized for site rehabilitation and environmental efforts, according to a statement released by US Congressman Kweisi Mfume, one of the six lawmakers who made the announcement.

Gradual decline

The Maryland Steel Company, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, began producing steel in Sparrow’s Point in 1889. The Sparrow’s Point waterfront facility was the world’s biggest steel mill by the mid-twentieth century, extending 4 miles (6.4 km) from end to end and employing 30,000 people. It produced ingots using the old open hearth steelmaking technology, which was labor- and energy-intensive.

1916 Bethlehem Steel Corporation of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, bought the facility. The mill’s steel was used in the Golden Gate Bridge’s girders and the George Washington Bridge’s cables, and it was an essential element of military production during World military I and World War II.

By 1961, the mill produced 672,000 short tonnes of steel per year. Changes in the steel industry, such as increased imports and a shift towards smaller oxygen furnaces and scrap recycling, led to decreased utilization of the Sparrow’s Point complex throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Subsequently, the plant changed hands many times, and its fifth owner, Renco, ran the company until 2012, before it filed for bankruptcy. The property is owned by the United Steelworkers union called Tradepoint Atlantic, which has partnered with Italian renewable energy company Renexia for this project.

Rising industry

The new project reflects the rising interest in renewable energy in the US over the past few years. According to the Department of Energy, across the country, there are over 500 manufacturing facilities specializing in wind components such as blades, towers, generators, and turbine assembly. This figure stood at close to 30 nearly two decades back.

The new agreement will see US Wind, a company owned by Renexia, invest $150 million in this new facility that will build “monopile foundations and other steel components needed for US Wind’s first two Maryland offshore wind projects- MarWin and Momentum Wind – and have the capabilities to service the entire US offshore wind market on the East Coast,” said a statement by US Wind.

Monopiles are the most often utilized foundation type for offshore wind turbine support structures due to their ease of design and installation. Sparrows Point Steel can manufacture monopiles up to 39 feet in diameter and 400 feet in length. Monopiles may weigh up to 5,500,000 pounds. Over 220,000,000 pounds of steel plate will be consumed in a single year of manufacture, according to US Wind.

The new project is also slated to bring jobs back to the manufacturing industry in Maryland. It is estimated that around 500 union jobs and a total labor income of $1,019,056,500 will be generated in 20 years. “Through both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US and back to Maryland, and this investment will help make Baltimore a competitive manufacturing hub for offshore wind and a premier destination for clean energy growth,” said a statement.