Wind farm construction begins

Deepwater Wind says components to arrive this weekend
Fri, 07/17/2015 - 8:30am

The phrase, “steel in the water,” is becoming a reality for Deepwater Wind and its Block Island Wind Farm project. On Friday, July 10, the company’s CEO Jeff Grybowski told The Block Island Times that the company was just “10 days away” from installing the first of the five steel jacket foundations for the Block Island Wind Farm.

Deepwater Wind plans on beginning installation of the first foundation on Monday, July 20.

“I can guarantee you that I will be there for the steel in the water moment,” said Grybowski. “It’s the real kick off of installation. There will be some visible activity offshore in about 10 days or so. Folks will be able to see it.”

Grybowski said that “the first third of the foundations are on their way. They left Louisiana (for Rhode Island) on July 4. As of this morning (July 10) the first transportation barge was right off the coast of Florida,” he said. “We expect those initial components to arrive off of the Rhode Island coast next weekend.”

All of the steel jacket foundation components, which are being shipped in two pieces, were constructed at the Gulf Island Fabrication shipyard in Houma, Louisiana. Gulf Island has built some of the largest offshore oil platforms in the world.

According to Deepwater Wind, each of the five steel foundations will weigh more than 1,500 tons and stand 110 feet tall. The first load-out of components from Gulf Island occurred at the end of June.

Deepwater Wind has said the arrival of the first foundation components will be on Sunday, July 19. “It takes about 16 days” for the components to be shipped from Louisiana, said Grybowski.

“Sometime between Saturday and Monday the transportation barge will arrive. Sometime between the 18th and 20th,” Grybowski said. “That first transportation barge is carrying the first several components of the wind farm foundations. It’s the first of three transportation barges that will take all of the foundations from the Gulf of Mexico to Rhode Island.”

Grybowski noted that a few days before the transportation barge’s arrival “we’ll see the first construction vessel sitting off the coast of Block Island.” That vessel will probably arrive at the end of the week, and “will be a big barge with a big crane on it,” he said. “And they will begin to get ready on the offshore sites, waiting for that transportation barge (carrying the foundation components) to arrive over the weekend.”

Grybowski said that the entire installation process of all five steel jacket foundations “will take about eight weeks, from start to finish. So if we start in the third week of July, it’ll take us through late September,” he said. “There will be a variety of different activities going on. It will start with just one foundation and one large crane barge, but then there will be a point when we’re working on two or three foundations all at the same time.”

“It’s a very big step forward,” Grybowski said. “It’s the moment we’ve been working towards for a long time. And it will be the first project in the United States to have steel in the water.”

So, while the $2.6 billion Cape Wind project in neighboring Massachusetts has floundered due to legal and financial issues, the Block Island Wind Farm is on target to be the first operational wind farm in the U.S. “It’s a big moment,” said Grybowski.

During the foundation installation process “there will be multiple installation vessels and material barges out there,” Grybowski explained. “We’ll pretty quickly go from just a couple of vessels out there to more than a dozen.”

The completion of the installation of the steel foundations will conclude Deepwater Wind’s offshore construction work for the current calendar year. “We’ll come back at it in the spring, with the cable installation first, and then with the erection of the five wind turbines in the summer of 2016,” said Grybowski.

After the five foundations are installed, National Grid will commence its portion of the wind farm project by beginning the installation of the its $107 million cable in the fall of this year. National Grid is tasked with installing both the submarine and land-based cables that will connect Block Island to the mainland.

“National Grid will be doing some work over the winter, both on the island and on the mainland, to install the onshore cable elements of the project,” noted Grybowski. “They don’t have the same restrictions that we do working offshore, so they’ll be working through the winter doing different aspects of the substations and the road work to get the cable system onshore ready for that offshore vessel, which will show up in the spring time next year.”

The vessel that Grybowski was referring to is the barge that will tow a jet plow designed to install the submarine cable six feet beneath 20 miles of state and federal seafloor. National Grid said during a June 15 meeting at The Block Island Times that they planned on conducting the entire cable installation process from the fall of 2015 through the spring of 2016.

“We’re very much on schedule,” said Grybowski. “All of our contractors are working very well. The work down in the Gulf of Mexico will be finishing up in the next few weeks.” 

Grybowski said the second of three barges that will be carrying foundation components from Louisiana to Rhode Island, “will probably leave the Gulf this weekend. So, we’ll have two barges on their way,” he said. “The third (and final) barge will leave in a couple of more weeks, completing the work down there. And then everything will either be here, or on the way in the next few weeks.”

When asked if he thought that Deepwater Wind would meet its deadline of flipping the switch for the Block Island Wind farm, Grybowski said, “Absolutely. The project is on schedule. We’re feeling very confident that we’re going to start the offshore installation on time, and we’ll be up and running in the second half of 2016.”