Coming attraction: The B.I. Wind Farm

Work delayed by choppy seas
Fri, 07/24/2015 - 9:00am

The Block Island Wind Farm has become an added attraction at the Southeast Lighthouse since Deepwater Wind equipment appeared off the coast this week. 

Although some activity could be viewed from the bluffs on Tuesday, July 21, the construction process was hampered by rough seas, causing a delay for the “steel in the water” moment that Deepwater Wind has been planning for since they received full funding for the project on March 6.

On Wednesday, July 22, Deepwater Wind informed The Block Island Times that the transportation barge containing the steel foundation components, seen adjacent to the large crane at the offshore site, would be carting the foundations to Quonset Point to do rigging work.

“The seas continue to be choppy, so the crew today will start towing the foundations barge to Quonset, where they will be better able to do some of the rigging work while docked in-port,” said Meaghan Wims, the spokesperson for the Block Island Wind Farm. “The barge will then sail back to the offshore site, likely by the end of the week.”

Despite the schedule setback, Deepwater Wind said that they intended to return the barge containing the foundation components back to the offshore site by week’s end and intend to complete the entire foundation installation process by the end of September. If the project remains on schedule, the five wind turbines would be added to the foundations in the summer of 2016. Subsequently, Deepwater Wind intends to ‘flip the switch’ on the wind farm in the fall of 2016.

Visitors to the landmark island destination, tourists and locals alike, have been visiting the locale not only to tour the historic lighthouse, but to catch glimpses of history in the making: the construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm.  

During this past week, people who toured the property witnessed a large crane and components of the first of five foundations sitting in about 90 feet of water approximately three miles off the southeast coast of the island. On Tuesday, July 21, a thick haze that made visibility poor from the lighthouse bluffs shrouded the offshore construction activity.

Councilor Allan MacKay was seen walking out to the edge of the bluffs carrying a Del’s lemonade, but was disappointed that the haze was preventing him from witnessing the installation process unfolding out at sea. He said that he would be back the next day to see if he could glimpse the wind farm assembly process.

A photographer freelancing for The New York Times arrived in the mid afternoon and immediately voiced his displeasure with the soup-like haze. He was on a one-day assignment and hoped he could capture some images of the wind farm.

Stationed on the bluffs throughout the day, a technician from T. Baker Smith, a surveying company based in Louisiana, provided GPS (Global Positioning System) data utilizing an RTK (Real Time Kinematic) device to the crew working offshore at the wind farm site. The RTK system receives GPS location data and transmits the information to the offshore crew for installation of the wind farm foundations.

The technician, who was monitoring his equipment, was peppered with a range of questions from curious onlookers. Some people asked the technician if he was operating drone equipment or surveying the property.

At the Southeast Lighthouse, people took pictures with cameras and cellphones of the large crane and steel foundations sitting on the transportation barge. The transportation barge delivered the first of the 1,500 ton steel foundation components from the Gulf Island Fabrications shipyard in Houma, Louisiana on Saturday, July 18.

Deepwater Wind stated publicly that it had hoped to begin installation of the steel foundations on Monday, July 20. 

At the Southeast Lighthouse during the week, there was interest and fascination displayed by the public about the project. Everyone who mentioned the project was in favor of construction of the wind farm. Comments that were made ranged from, “It’s the first in the nation,” to “It’s a good idea,” and “It should reduce energy costs on the island.”

Roger Kenyon, from Waterford, Connecticut, who was visiting the island, said during a interview with The Block Island Times that “it should be interesting to see what the wind farm looks like” once it’s assembled. “I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I know they’re having trouble with the one in Cape Cod.”

“My son-in-law and I have been looking at the (barges),” he said. “First it was way out there, the rig was way out there, we saw it from a distance. I couldn’t see it in the haze yesterday.”

Kenyon, who rode his bicycle to the lighthouse, said that he’s been following news of the Block Island Wind Farm in the newspaper. “The blades are probably going to be about the height of that crane out there,” said Kenyon, while gazing out at the barges. “I don’t think you’ll hear any noise from it.”

“The (electric) rates should be less than what they’re paying here now,” added Kenyon. “I was curious, because I noticed that there’s hardly air conditioning in anything out here except for the post office, the package store and the library.”

Kenyon noted that his home in Connecticut is powered by energy generated from a nuclear power plant. He also said that his daughter was married right beside the large rock that resides on the Southeast Lighthouse property.