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Belgian trade mission tours Somerville, Cambridge, and Beacon Hill

Visitors talk clean energy, life sciences. No word on waffle trade.

Princess Astrid of Belgium tours the State House with Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday.LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

A delegation of several hundred Belgian government, academic and business leaders rolled through Greater Boston on Thursday and Friday on the hunt for business opportunities in the offshore wind and biotech industries.

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

Biden wants to see 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power installed in less than a decade in the US, which today has just one small wind farm off Block Island. Massachusetts would play a key role in this, with 3.2 gigawatts already contracted and another 2.4 still 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, towers are now slated to start going up south of Martha’s Vineyard next spring.

Vineyard Wind was front and center at Greentown Labs, a clean-tech incubator in Somerville that Belgium’s Princess Astrid and a long line of colleagues visited Thursday. Speakers included Governor Charlie Baker and Vineyard Wind chief executive Klaus Moeller.

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Luc Vandenbulcke, chief executive of Belgian offshore wind installer DEME, participated in a panel discussion after signing an agreement to bring interns from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy over to Europe, starting in September. DEME’s US subsidiary already has been tapped to install foundations and turbines at Vineyard Wind. DEME, Vandenbulcke said, has installed 2,700 offshore wind turbines over the years, primarily in Europe.

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

“No, it’s not at all,” Vandenbulcke said in an interview later. “The figures that are on the table in the US are realistic [but] there’s quite a number of things that have to be done in parallel.”

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They, he said, include getting unions on board, building the necessary port infrastructure, and figuring out how best to deliver the power into the mainland grid.

“My only surprise was how supportive they were in believing we could achieve this very audacious goal,” Ryan Dings, Greentown’s chief operating officer, said on Friday. “One of the reasons why there was interest from the governor, our corporate partners, and our entrepreneurs to hear from the Belgian mission is because they successfully have done this.”

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

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

“We have a mutual goal of ensuring that we’re advancing science out of the labs and into patients as fast as possible,” Boncore said.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.