R.I. Fast Ferry wins Deepwater contract

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 10:15am

Rhode Island Fast Ferry, the company that provides hi-speed ferry service to the Vineyard and would like to create a new route from Quonset to Block Island, has signed a 20-year deal with Deepwater Wind to provide the crew transfer vessel to transport personnel for construction and maintenance of the Block Island wind farm project.

“This is very big news,” said Charles A. Donadio, Jr., President of Rhode Island Fast Ferry during an interview with The Block Island Times. “It’s the biggest maritime news in the last 10 years. And, it’s a very exciting time for Block Island.”

The agreement enables Donadio’s high-speed catamaran ferry company to commission the first U.S.-built crew transfer vessel, to be built by Blount Boats of Warren, and launch Atlantic Wind Transfers, its commercial wind support services division. 

“This is huge,” said Marcia Blount, President of Blount Boats. “We are honored to be chosen to build the first U.S. flagged wind farm vessel in the United States. The vessel is designed specifically for turbine transfer service. We enthusiastically join an all-Rhode Island team of wind farm, operator, and boat builder.”

Donadio said that although approximately 300 crew transfer vessels have been built in Europe to service offshore wind farms overseas, it is a brand new industry in this country. “It’s like a mini fast ferry,” he said.

In a press release issued on Monday, May 18, Deepwater Wind stated that, “Rhode Island Fast Ferry will be investing over $4 million to build the vessel and provide training to meet the needs of the Block Island wind farm. The construction of the transfer vessel is being undertaken at a local Rhode Island shipyard, and Blount Boats, where the contract will secure employment for 70 workers throughout the 12-month build.”

Atlantic Wind Transfers will provide crew and equipment support during the construction phase of the Block Island wind farm, beginning in the spring of 2016. Each workboat that will be chartered to the offshore wind farm will require a crew of five to six full-time, technically skilled employees working year round.

Following completion of the 30-megawatt turbine site, the ferry company will help with operations, maintenance support and encompass a scheduled maintenance program throughout the 20-year lifespan of the first U.S. based offshore wind farm project.

“I’m delighted to support Deepwater Wind’s efforts throughout the wind farm’s offshore construction and operation and to demonstrate our own personal commitment to the offshore wind sector through the launch of our subsidiary brand, Atlantic Wind Transfers,” said Donadio.

“We’re excited to partner with two veteran Rhode Island companies that will bring their decades of experience to supporting our Block Island wind farm,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, Deepwater Wind CEO. “Most importantly, this will mean more jobs in the marine trades for Rhode Islanders and another way that the Ocean State will lead the growth of this new American offshore wind industry.”

“I have to hand it to Deepwater,” said Blount. “They did a wonderful job. They made it happen. We had been waiting for this to happen.”

Blount said that her company had signed a license agreement five years ago with the U.K. company South Boats Design for the right to utilize the builder's transfer vessel design. Blount Boats has begun construction of the first transfer vessel that will travel at a speed of 30 knots and accommodate more than 12 of Deepwater Wind’s technical crew members.

“It’s a beautiful boat in terms of functionality,” said Blount, whose company mission is to be 'taskmasters of the sea.' “It takes the seas well. We’ve got the best design out there.”

Blount, who said that her company had its sights set on the offshore wind energy business, is pleased to be adding jobs to the Ocean State’s workforce. “We’re going to be adding to our workforce,” said Blount. “We hope this is the first of many (boats) we build.”

“My employees are ecstatic,” said Donadio of his Fast Ferry employees. “They’re going to be a part of leading this industry in this country.”

Both Blount and Donadio had been monitoring the neighboring Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, which is in flux after the company failed to meet a financial deadline and two utility companies backed away from the project.

“We’re thrilled to be contracted with the Fast Ferry,” said Blount. “Charlie stepped up to the plate and took a risk with this type of service and I hope he will get rewarded for it. His company is situated perfectly to provide this service to the Block Island wind farm.”

Rhode Island Fast Ferry is located at Quonset Point where Deepwater Wind has a facility operated by Specialty Diving Services, which has been charged with building components of the wind farm project.

Deepwater Wind noted in their press release that “Rhode Island Fast Ferry was awarded the inaugural charter agreement thanks in part to its offshore operating experience, its impeccable safety record and its catamaran water jet experience. In addition, the firm’s established location and dockage facility at Quonset Point will provide Atlantic Wind Transfers and Deepwater Wind quick and convenient access to the Block Island Wind Farm site using the new crew transfer vessel.”

Donadio told The Times that he had his sights set on the offshore wind energy business. “The catalyst was that I just saw a need,” said Donadio, who traveled to Europe to learn about the offshore wind energy business. “I knew a wind farm was going to be built locally. I tried with Cape Wind first. Then I spoke with Deepwater Wind and knew it was a sector I wanted to be involved in.”

"The vessel will be primarily operating out of Quonset. The idea to dock in Block Island could be a future possibility especially when you will have hundreds of turbines being built offshore in the near future," Donadio added. "Another reason why more dockage may be needed in Old Harbor."

There will be an official Deepwater Wind ribbon cutting ceremony on June 8, 2015 at the Blount Boats shipyard in Warren. Atlantic Wind Transfers will be launching their crew transfer vessel service in April of 2016. 

“I would like to run my ferry service to the island,” said Donadio of his interest in providing hi-speed ferry service to Block Island. “But it will be fun working off of Block Island.”

In response to the deal, speaking on behalf of Interstate Navigation, Attorney Michael McElroy told The Block Island Times that "We (Interstate Navigation) did not get a formal RFP (Request for Proposal) or informal inquiry about that. If we had been approached either way, through a formal RFP or informally, we would have been interested." 

In related news, National Grid announced in a press release on May 18, that the utility company was kicking off the initial stage of installation of the $107 million cable that will connect the wind farm to the mainland. The cable will run 20 miles from Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett through federal and state waters to Block Island, where it will be routed to the wind farm located three miles off the southeast coast of the island.   

“National Grid is excited to play such a significant role in bringing to reality what is anticipated to be the nation’s first off-shore wind farm,” said Timothy F. Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island. “We take great pride in serving as an energy solutions provider for our customers, and this project is an important step toward building a more efficient, reliable and cost-effective electrical delivery system for the future.”

According to the release, “National Grid will be conducting survey work along a number of roadways in Narragansett and South Kingstown. The work may result in minor traffic delays along Route 108 and Old Tower Hill Road over the coming weeks.”

“The majority of the transmission infrastructure needed to connect the wind farm to the electric distribution system on Block Island and mainland Rhode Island will be constructed, owned and maintained by National Grid.” The utility’s “‘sea2shore’ project will interconnect with the wind farm’s submarine cable at Block Island’s Crescent Beach. Following a route of approximately one mile on Corn Neck Road and Beach Avenue, and using both overhead and underground cabling, the power will be delivered to a new National Grid owned and operated substation on Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) property. From there it will be distributed to the Island’s electric customers by BIPCo.”

The release noted that, “With an anticipated 30 megawatts of generation, the wind farm is expected to supply far more power than Block Island’s entire current demand of 3 to 4 megawatts."