DULUTH — Wind energy has already blown out a Duluth port record.
The sheer volume of wind turbine blades, towers and other parts moving through Duluth in 2019 surpassed record tonnage totals this week by reaching 306,000 freight tons.
"We have been watching with excitement as our wind cargo tonnage overtook our record 2008 tonnage," Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Deb DeLuca said. "This didn't happen by accident."
The last inbound wind cargo vessel for the 2019 season, the Happy River, flying a Dutch flag, finished offloading on Monday and left port Tuesday afternoon.
All told, the Happy River arrived with wind cargoes eight times this season, doing its part to raise the record total of freight tons of wind components delivered in 2019. It's narrowly the port's best figure for wind parts, eclipsing 2008's 302,000 freight tons.
DeLuca cited $25 million in enhancements to port infrastructure since 2016 as critical to improving capabilities and drawing more imported bulk cargoes through the port to go with the staple shipments of taconite iron ore, coal, grain and more.
Imported wind blades and other parts bound for wind fields in the Dakotas are stacked up across the entirety of docks C and D, the redeveloped area across the slip from the Clure Public Marine Terminal at the end of Rice's Point.
"It has definitely put to good use the new laydown space we gained with the Clure Terminal expansion," Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson Jayson Hron said, citing docks C and D. "And breaking the wind cargo tonnage record, on the heels of earning the HLPFI Port/Terminal Operator of the Year Award, certainly makes for a memorable month of October in the Port of Duluth-Superior."
Port Authority and Lake Superior Warehousing officials were in Antwerp, Belgium earlier this month to accept their international Operator of the Year Award for Duluth Cargo Connect from a shipping publication titled "Heavy Lift and Project Forwarding International." Duluth Cargo Connect is a combined entity offering the bundled services of the Port Authority and Lake Superior Warehousing.
Years of hard-won port improvements "enable and support the excellent work that (President) Jonathan Lamb's crew does in handling these beautiful and oversize wind cargoes," DeLuca said of Lake Superior Warehousing.
Compared to staple cargoes, wind energy parts are a relatively new lakes commodity.
"Wind energy has been an important part of our cargo portfolio for the last decade, dating back to our first shipments in 2006," Lamb said. “As the farthest inland port in North America and geographically well-situated to support wind farm installations in the Upper Midwest and central Canada, we pride ourselves in providing a seamless connection between modes of transportation for our wind customers."
Plump stockpiles of wind blades and parts will be depleted in the coming weeks, as the products are trucked out in the early mornings, Hron said.
"We will still have components going out for delivery by truck into late November/early December," Hron said. "The blades should finish trucking out in the next couple of weeks."
Comparatively, 306,000 freight tons is the weight of 18 total 17,000-pound floating offshore oil drilling rigs or 23-plus brontosauruses.