A 'Big moment for Block Island'

As Deepwater Wind celebrates “steel in the water”
Fri, 07/31/2015 - 8:30am

Deepwater Wind, the offshore wind energy company tasked with building the five turbine, 30-megawatt pilot Block Island Wind Farm project, wasted little time in introducing the first visible sign of its $290 million creation to the public.

On Monday, July 27, with a Coast Guard escort cruising at the port side, amidst a thunderstorm and rough seas, Deepwater Wind chartered a group of 150 people aboard a Rhode Island Fast Ferry boat for a tour of the burgeoning wind farm site. The day before, after dealing with rigging issues, the offshore wind energy company made history by installing the first of five foundations in approximately 90 feet of water about three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island.

“It’s awesome being that close” to the first foundation, said Grybowski. “It was very exciting. The moment goes by pretty fast. The lifting it and putting it in the water [takes] about half an hour. It’s all that work that happened before that really took a lot of time.”

Grybowski said that he was “anxious and hopeful” that the foundation would be set in the water by Sunday, July 26. “It was a big moment,” he said. “It’s enormous” for Block Island, “for all the traditional reasons: lower energy costs, the fiber optic cable and I think at the end of the day Block Islanders will be very proud of the project. They will be proud that they’re part of the community that hosted the first offshore wind farm.”

Monday’s event was a ribbon cutting ceremony hailed as a celebration of the historic “steel in the water” moment that Deepwater Wind had been working toward since the project’s inception seven years ago.

The week wasn’t without its bumps. A barge accident dented one of the steel jackets, which sent the foundation back to Quonset.

“Earlier this week, one of the construction barges made contact with Jacket 1 and dented one of the legs. This is the kind of thing that can happen in construction projects, especially those offshore,” said Deepwater spokesperson Meaghan Wims. “Our flexible schedule provides us more than enough time to address things like bad weather or repairs such as this one, so our timeline remains on-track. We’re expecting difficult weather conditions offshore at least through the weekend — we’ll continue with the Jacket 2 installation after the weather clears.” 

Aboard the ferry were state, federal and local officials, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline, as well as a Block Island contingent comprised of First Warden Ken Lacoste, Second Warden Norris Pike, Kim Gaffett, Bill Penn and BIPCo co-owner Cliff McGinnes, Sr. who were treated to a close-up view of the first foundation sitting in the water, something that a Deepwater Wind spokesman said would probably never happen again.

“It was a great moment,” said Raimondo of seeing the yellow colored foundation sitting in the water, “because it makes (the project) real. You see people working, the ones who did the installation. It made it very real. And, of course as the governor, I’m proud of Rhode Island, and I want to keep it going.”

Raimondo said that Block Island would see a benefit from the wind farm. “It will be cleaner, less expensive energy for Block Island,” Raimondo said. “Cleaner, less expensive energy for Rhode Island, over time. So, this is just the beginning. This is one farm, one installation, 17,000 homes, and we’re going to grow this. So the potential is what’s exciting. Seizing the lead is what’s exciting about it.”

The Governor told The Block Island Times that she intends to visit Block Island within the next few weeks.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, said that the wind farm was a “pioneering moment for Rhode Island” and is located “in a great spot to produce wind energy. This is the beginning of a chapter,” she said.

“This is a footprint that we can expand,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

“We’re here today because we did it right,” said Sen. Jack Reed. “This project is about the future.”

“This is what happens when we work together,” said Congressman David Cicilline, who lauded the efforts of local, state and federal governments.

This was also a big day for Block Island officials, who were congregated on the second deck of the ferry to view the steel foundation submerged in the water.

“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her,” said Second Warden Norris Pike, referencing Kim Gaffett.

“The smallest town, the smallest state, is leading the nation in renewables (with this project),” said Gaffett. “I find it completely thrilling. I had chills,” she said, upon seeing the submerged steel foundation. “I find it very moving to be here in this setting and see it all come to fruition. It’s a humbling experience.”

Gaffett said that the wind farm has taken “time and diligence” and believes that “the nation is going in the right direction with this” project. She also feels that she had “some little tiny part in helping” to get the wind farm project off the ground.

“The utilities are going to be lower. They’re going to be stable,” said Gaffett. “Anytime we’re getting power off of this (wind farm), it’s coming from a renewable resource. It’s great.”

Gaffett said that when the project was first proposed by the state in an early incarnation, in January 2007, it entailed the construction of 140 wind turbines located within a half-mile of the island’s shoreline. “That was the Rhode Island Energy Report, when they were just starting to think about 15 or 20 percent renewables in their portfolio. And that was the beginning,” she said. “This is light years of an improvement” over that project, which she said wasn’t going to bring power to Block Island.

Gaffett noted that the Block Island Wind Farm is fast becoming an island tourist attraction.

“I think we’ve already seen that people are coming (to see it). They want to see it,” said Gaffett. “People have been flocking to the Southeast Light all week. They want to witness what’s going on here.”.

 “I think there will be an increase in tourism,” said State Sen. Susan Sosnowski. “It’s good for the environment and the economy.”

During the trip to the wind farm site, officials assembled on the bow of the boat to cut the ribbon. Members of Deepwater Wind answered questions and mingled with officials while waving to construction workers on the large barge that housed the crane.

Standing on the ferry’s second deck while circling the site, Deepwater Wind President Chris van Beek told The Times that, “all of the steel foundation components have been fabricated” and noted that the final components, a steel jacket foundation and three decks, were en route from Houma, Louisiana. Van Beek explained that each foundation is comprised of two components: the steel jacket foundation and a deck, or platform, that sits atop it.

“It’s a pretty simple process,” said van Beek about the construction process. “It’s a matter of just putting a few components together.” Van Beek said that there has been good cooperation from all of the different entities engaged in the construction process for the project.

Van Beek noted that after the first steel foundation component was returned to Quonset Point last week, Specialty Diving Services adjusted the rigging by adding a few ladders, to allow workers the proper access to install the foundation in the water. The first foundation was due to be permanently anchored to the seabed during the week through a process that van Beek calls “pile driving,” which means pile driving steel two hundred feet down into the sea floor.

“We were pretty keen about getting accurate precision” for the placement of the foundations, said van Beek. Deepwater Wind has engaged the surveying company T. Baker Smith, based in Lafayette, Louisiana, to provide GPS (Global Positioning System) data. 

Van Beek denoted that two solar panels affixed to a platform deck component perched on a barge will power the aid-to-navigation system on each of the wind farm turbines.

According to Project Manager Jens Hansen, the wind farm turbines will be spaced two thousand feet apart and stand approximately 600 feet tall. 

A theme that pervaded the event was praise lauded upon the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) by virtually everyone who spoke at the event.

“So many people have worked very hard for a long time to make this possible,” said Gov. Raimondo. “The permitting process alone, and the ocean mapping, were incredibly difficult, but we did it. And Rhode Island did it faster than any other state, and now is the national leader.”   

OSAMP was responsible for the ocean mapping on the project, while BOEM handled the planning, leasing and approving of ocean wind lease zones. 

According to BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper, the bureau has been responsible for facilitating the leasing of eight miles of federal waters to accommodate the $107 million National Grid-owned cable. “We issued the right-of-way for eight miles of the 25-mile transmission line,” said Hopper. “A piece of it goes through federal waters. Our piece on this project was relatively small, but we have such a strong commitment to the development of offshore wind around the country that we’re just ecstatic.”

Grybowski reiterated that “something bigger” was yet to come for Deepwater Wind, but that cutting the ribbon “was a big moment” for his company.

“The plan is by the end of September” to have all five foundations installed, said Grybowski. “This time next year we’ll be getting ready to erect the turbines.”