Belgian trade mission visits Somerville, Cambridge and Beacon Hill

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A delegation of several hundred Belgian government, academic and business officials drove through Greater Boston on Thursday and Friday in search of business opportunities in the offshore wind and biotechnology sectors.

They also left behind something important: a renewed hope that President Biden’s ambitious vision for massive amounts of offshore wind energy by 2030 can become a reality.

Biden wants to see 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power installed in less than a decade in the United States, which today has only one small wind farm off Block Island. Massachusetts would play a key role in this, with 3.2 gigawatts already under contract and another 2.4 yet to be awarded. First up: the 0.8 gigawatt Vineyard Wind project, owned by Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, to provide enough electricity for more than 400,000 homes. After several delays, the towers are now set to begin climbing south of Martha’s Vineyard next spring.

Vineyard Wind was in the foreground at Greentown Labs, a cleantech incubator in Somerville that Princess Astrid of Belgium and a long line of colleagues visited on Thursday. Speakers included Governor Charlie Baker and Vineyard Wind General Manager Klaus Moeller.

Luc Vandenbulcke, managing director of Belgian offshore wind installer DEME, took part in a panel discussion after signing an agreement to bring interns from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy to Europe, starting in September. The US subsidiary of DEME has already been asked to install the foundations and turbines of Vineyard Wind. DEME, Vandenbulcke said, has installed 2,700 offshore wind turbines over the years, mostly in Europe.

Someone in the audience asked if Biden’s bid to build 30 gigawatts in eight years was just a dream.

“No, it’s not at all,” Vandenbulcke said in a later interview. “The figures that are on the table in the United States are realistic [but] there are a lot of things to do in parallel.

This, he said, includes involving trade unions, building the necessary port infrastructure and finding the best way to deliver electricity to the continental grid.

“My only surprise was how confident they were that we could achieve this very audacious goal,” Ryan Dings, Greentown’s chief operating officer, said Friday. “One of the reasons why the governor, our business partners and our contractors have shown interest in hearing from the Belgian mission is that they have succeeded in doing so.

The Belgian trade group traveled to Atlanta and New York earlier in the week. While in Boston, members of the delegation visited the State House, MIT and the US headquarters of Takeda Pharmaceutical. On Friday, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council in Cambridge hosted the delegation for a day of life science sessions, including one that called Belgium the “Health & Biotech Valley of Tomorrow”.

MassBio chief executive Joe Boncore said he sees several parallels between Massachusetts, which is now considered the industry’s global epicenter, and Belgium. He hopes that the relationships his members establish with their Belgian counterparts can lead to long-term business relationships.

“We have a common goal of making sure we’re advancing science out of labs and into patients as fast as possible,” Boncore said.


Jon Chesto can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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