Ørsted and National Grid present cable project

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 5:30pm
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It’s going to be a busy fall, winter and spring for Ørsted and National Grid.

Two sections of undersea transmission cable they each own that experienced periodic episodes of exposure will be reburied by the time the summer season opens in 2021.

Beginning in October 2020, according to representatives from both companies, machinery and technology will start arriving on the island. It will be staffed by crews that, in order to be finished laying new cable at Crescent Beach before the 2021 summer season, may have to work day and night.

Cliff Pullen, project manager for Ørsted, and Dave Campilii, a consulting engineer for underground transmission engineering for National Grid, offered presentations to the members of the Town Council at its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

Both representatives said the project is complicated and will almost certainly be an expensive effort to keep both cables permanently below the bottom of the ocean. (Niether Ørsted, nor National Grid could divulge what the project may cost. The project will have to be put out to bid, and vendors will determine the cost. The representatives also said that Ørsted will pay for the reburial, and National Grid representatives said the cost will predominantly be shared by mainland ratepayers with some Block Island ratepayer participation.)

There will also be an extended power outage when the project is underway, which could last anywhere from two to four weeks.

This caused some concern among members of the public and the council. Bill Penn, in his capacity as a Treasurer of the Utility District Board of Board of Directors, said that if the wind farm goes down, the island will have to be powered by the diesel generators.

He said operating the generators will be more expensive than the kilowatt hour rate negotiated for the town with New England’s energy distributor. Penn asked who would pay the difference.

While there was no immediate answer to that, Second Warden André Boudreau said the council had heard from someone at the Block Island School who was concerned that a power outage would interrupt the school’s academics.

The Block Island School is part of the Community Anchor Institution network already on the high speed internet network, and going back to prior internet speeds would be too disruptive.

Campilii said the outage could “last a couple weeks, up to a month.”

Council members asked for the exact time length of this outage.

“We cannot tell you when and how long, until we speak with National Grid. Pullen stated there are restrictions on how much information they can share before speaking with other partnerships.”

“Are you saying the school and other institutions need to make alternate plans next winter?” in regard to internet availability, asked Beaudreau.

“When we cut the power cable, we will be interfering with the fiber optics,” said Campilii

“So you’re saying you’re going to lose that,” asked Boudreau. Beaudreau said “we will have to make accommodations for the school.”

Penn said “running the diesels will cost more money, the ratepayers will have to absorb that.”

“Our goal is to make this outage as short as possible. We will have a better idea of the outage as we get closer to the process,” said Campilii.

“It has to be understood, we don’t have a backup,” said Boudreau. “The school has difficulty with internet access as of now.”

“We are alerting you that this is a real issue... for the Medical Center, the library, police, the school. We need to have more than backup ideas,” said Risom.

“The town should have to maintain to a backup system if outage occurs,” Campanelli said. He added the company will be in touch with the town when the outage occurs..

Risom expressed concern on why the cable was not buried deep enough the first time. “Why wasn’t this done in 2016?” he asked.

Campilii stated, “as we were going through the permitting, the beach experiences” what he called “sand transport. We had a target burial depth of six feet, a minimum of four feet. The surf zone is extremely difficult for marine survey, and that’s where we hit the rock outcropping. We achieved two and a half feet of burial depth, and had to dig down to expose the cable. A year later, the cable was scowered out. We went through a permitting process, had permit requirements. Doing a survey in the surf zone is almost impossible,” said Campilii. He said the area could almost be described as a blind spot.

Pullen said prior to the meeting that Ørsted was not part of the project at that time and could not speak to that issue.

These concerns were noted, as was the tight timeframe that Ørsted and National Grid had proposed for getting the project completed.

The two companies will need to go through an extensive permitting process. The Town of New Shoreham will need to grant new easements for the new section of cables that will come ashore. Pullen, from Ørsted, told the council that its new section of cable will come on shore in the south parking lot. Both cables are now connected onshore below the north lot.

The companies will also need to obtain new permitting from the Coastal Recources Management Council, the Army Corps of Engineers, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

When asked what the biggest obstacle was in not making the May 2021 deadline, Pullen said “hitting something even at that 30-foot depth.” Ørsted’s plans are to rebury its own cable as deep as 30 feet. Both companies will be using what is known as horizontal drilling to dig a conduit from the beach out to the location of where the cables were exposed. They will drill 1,500 feet out into the ocean and, because the cable length will need to be extended in length due to the fact that it will be buried at a much lower depth, a new section of cable will need to be spliced on to bring the cable to the north and south lots. (National Grid will need to add about 1,000 feet of new cable and Ørsted about 3,000 feet.)

Pullen added “idea is to mobilize as fast as possible, to have all the permits and easements involved. We will have to hand over everything to contractors to start work.”

Town Manager Jim Kern asked if this would be “a more expensive time around.” Kern expressed concerns with the schedule of the cable project. “If we roll into the summer season, catastrophic issue. When you look at this project, what concerns you the most?”

“Comes down to the unknown boulders that we are not aware of, missing a specific area,” said Pullen.

Kern asked about the working hours of the cable crews.

“Normal working hours on this project,” said Campanelli.

It was Councilor Martha Ball who suggested that crews could work beyond daylight hours.

“You’re really talking about the shortest time of the year,” said Ball. “I’d much rather see that it get done. No one wants to see this delayed.” She also said it was such a quiet time of year “it’s nice to have a distraction.”

“We should be able to use the night-time,” said Kern.

“There is the possibility of extended work hours,” said Campilii of National Grid.

Town Manager Jim Kern said the next steps in the project, locally, will be for the town to continue its discussions with both National Grid and Ørsted on what easements will need to be granted.