B. I. Wind Farm needs to be 'perfect'

CEO Grybowski sets the bar high
Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:15am

As the Block Island Wind Farm project inches closer to reality, Deepwater Wind officials visited Block Island on Friday, March 20 as part of a public relations initiative to inform the community about the project’s current status, plans and timeline.

“Block Island has to be a huge success,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, referring to the proposed wind farm that will be situated three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island. “Failure is not an option. I don’t want middling success. I want excellent success. This has got to be perfect.”

During the visit, Grybowski sat down with the staff of The Block Island Times to answers questions about the wind farm. He spent over an hour at The Times office Friday morning detailing every phase and aspect of the project.

"I thought coming (to Block Island) early in the year was important," said Grybowski about informing the New Shoreham community. 

It's been a long road for the company, which recently secured $290 million in financing needed to get the project off the ground. During Grybowski's stewardship, the company has had to shepherd 26 approvals from state, federal and local entities for permitting and has seen three governors serve office at the Rhode Island State House. The first of the three, Donald Carcieri, announced on Sept. 25, 2008 that Deepwater Wind had been selected as the developer to construct the 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm. Carcieri was succeeded by Lincoln Chafee and it will be current Gov. Gina Raimondo who will be on hand the day the project goes live.

Shortly thereafter, Grybowski, who served as Carcieri's Chief of Staff from 2003 to 2007, was hired as Deepwater Wind's chief administrative officer and senior Vice President for strategy and external affairs. In 2012, Grybowski replaced Chief Executive Officer William Moore, who had been leading the company since 2009.

"We're very excited, and very proud," said Grybowski about being first to secure financing for offshore wind in the U.S. "But as happy as I am to be here, I'm more excited to get it up and running. We're on the precipice of installing this. And we're now about to do the most important thing: to build it and build it well."

Grybowski wants to build the wind turbines "on schedule and on budget. When we flip the switch on that's when I will be satisfied that we've done our jobs," he said. "We're not there yet. We're just at the next stage. But obviously we're very proud to be where we are."

According to Grybowski, the company intends to flip the switch around the fall of 2016. Construction of the jacket structure foundations will begin on July 15, 2015. That construction phase is what Grybowski has notably referred to as "steel in water."

“We’ve built a high quality extraordinarily experienced team that really is unmatched in our business in the U.S.,” said Grybowski. “We’re ready to take the next step. That’s why we’ve put so many resources into making sure this works.”

The team Grybowski is citing is company President Chris van Beek, who is managing construction and operational aspects of the company’s strategy, and Project Director Jens Hansen, who has overseen the building of many large offshore wind array projects in Europe. Grybowski said that Hansen’s first project was the 20-turbine, 40-megawatt Middelgrunden offshore wind farm that was built in 2000 and is located in Copenhagen, Denmark that is notable for its arcing array configuration.

The first physical evidence of construction of the Block Island wind farm will be the installation of the steel jacket platform foundations on July 15. That next step, building the jacket foundations, will take eight weeks to construct.

“It will be a little bit of an assembly line operation,” said Grybowski, alluding to the arrangement of the barges and ships that will be involved in the wind farm’s construction.

For the duration of construction there will be marine mammal observers that project manager Bryan Wilson calls a “critical component to the project to ensure that there’s no disruption to any marine mammals.”

“We will have probably, I think it’s in the ballpark of 20 people, who are dedicated just for environmental compliance,” said Grybowski.

Grybowski said that there are going to be approximately 100 construction crewmembers employed on the project. Half of the crewmembers will be comprised of local workers. Deepwater Wind's management team and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) will oversee the project. Block Island resident Mike Ernst will be utilizing his boat as the team’s transfer vessel. The Coast Guard will provide security as part of an overall safety plan.

Federal Law dictates that no harm be done to the environment, or marine life, while the project is under construction. Deepwater Wind will be using ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles) to clean and prep the seabed for installation of the jacket structures. These vehicles will be responsible for keeping the seabed clean and free from debris and pollutants.

The jacket structures will be completed in September (2015) and will be adorned with navigation lights, then there will be no activity on the wind farm project until the following spring. During the winter months, installation of the cable will begin. National Grid is financing the $107 million marine cable, and its construction and installation. The beach work associated with the cable will occur in the spring of 2016 and the laying of the cable out to the wind farm site will commence in May/June of 2016.

After the cable installation, from Block Island to the mainland and to the wind farm, is finished in June/July of 2016, the construction of the wind turbines will begin in July/August of 2016. At that time, the Fred. Olsen Windcarrier jack-up vessel will arrive to begin erecting the first turbine, which will take one week to put together. The other four wind turbines will require three to four days each of construction.

Following the installation of the turbines and a month or so of electrical connections, testing and commissioning, the switch will be flipped (fall 2016) and the wind farm will be operational.

The wind farm will have a 20-year lifespan warranty.

The wind farm will have the ability to withstand high winds like those from a category three hurricane. When the wind reaches 65 miles per hour the blades go into neutral. Various informational devices will monitor the equipment on a daily basis.

What Grybowski believes the project will bring to Block Island is "stabilized low cost energy" and "fiber optics" to improve New Shoreham's broadband service. “The Block Island wind farm will produce almost all of the electricity that the island needs year round,” said Grybowski. “We will still export about 90 percent of what we produce to the mainland. So, we can produce 10 times as much energy as the island needs and still ship it (both ways) over the cable.”

“At the current use levels,” added Wilson.

“The cable has a lot of capacity,” said Grybowski.

Deepwater Wind is also in the early development stages of a much larger wind farm project that will be situated in federal waters 18 miles off the Rhode Island coastline. Grybowski said that project “has the potential to have about 200 machines (wind turbines).”

“It’s a 256-square mile area in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “We’ve always thought that an initial demonstration scale project is really important for the industry to prove out what we can do in the U.S., that we can raise the financing, that we can get through a permitting process, and that we have the contractors and expertise that can actually pull it off - is really critical.”

Grybowski said that the process for constructing an offshore wind farm in the U.S. is vastly different from the European process. “So much is different,” said Grybowski. “In many European countries it is the process for receiving all of the approvals you need. Not just the permitting approvals. The financial approvals, the revenue contract and the leasing.”

For constructing an offshore wind farm, Grybowski said that you need three things to build the project; the lease for the site, a revenue contract and environmental permitting to get approvals. “Those are three independent, completely distinct processes in the United States, and they, in no way are coordinated,” said Grybowski. “They are completely independent. It’s up to the developer (in the U.S.) to figure out how to bring those three pieces together. In Europe they have one coordinated system.”

Grybowski explained that in the United Kingdom they have a bidding process where if a developer wins rights to an offshore wind farm project they are granted exclusivity over the site, a guaranteed revenue stream and have to deal with only one agency for permits. “It’s all one coordinated, centralized system,” Grybowski said. “So, there’s a lot of certainty in the process. It’s part of a national system, a long-term energy plan that says we want to develop these sites over time. And offshore wind is just one element of the plan. That’s how these European companies have been able to build a big industry.”

With Deepwater Wind’s pioneering venture into the offshore wind energy business Grybowski thinks there will be a refinement of the U.S. process. “What we’re seeing is, even on the part of the agencies, a better understanding of the industry and how to make sense of the process,” he said. “But, it’s still not a straight forward one. It still takes a fair amount of experience and expertise to get through it.”