Deepwater consolidating management in preparation for busy future

Mon, 04/20/2009 - 4:00am

04/18/09 - Deepwater Wind, the company proposing to build two wind farms off the coast of Block Island, recruited two new senior executives this week and is lauding a federal agreement governing wind farm regulations.

In a coup of sorts, Deepwater hired James S. Lanard away from rival offshore wind developer Bluewater Wind. Lanard, head of strategic planning for Bluewater, will be one of three managing directors that report to Deepwater’s Board of Directors. Chris Wissemann, the company’s chief operating officer, will also become a managing director. He had been serving as acting CEO since Deepwater’s first chief executive, Chris Brown, abruptly departed last fall. The company anticipates naming a third director in about two weeks, Wissemann said Tuesday.

Deepwater also announced Tuesday the hiring of Paul Rich as chief development officer. Rich will be based in Providence in a one-man office and will oversee the construction of two projects off the Rhode Island coast. Rich will also oversee the establishment of an office on Block Island.

“That will help not only with the project management but it will accommodate staff on the island and a place for me to come to on a frequent basis without missing a step,” Rich said Wednesday.

The management shuffling comes as Deepwater is positioning itself to undertake not only the Rhode Island project, but potentially others along the East Coast.

“What this really is, is a commitment to grow bigger [and] put in place the management team to be able to grow to the billion-dollar company we intend to be,” Wissemann said.

For the last two years Rich has been the chief development officer of Cross Hudson Cable, where he supervised the development and permitting of a 550-megawatt electrical cable under the Hudson River from New Jersey to Manhattan.

Rich also served as business development officer of OSET Associates of South Portland, Maine, overseeing a staff that worked on hydrogen fuel cell, tidal energy and co-generation technology. Rich was also chief operating officer of Atlantic Energy Partner’s $550-million Neptune Regional Transmission System, which connected New Jersey’s energy resources to Long Island via a high voltage underwater cable.

Rich will need to combine those skills if Deepwater’s plans become a reality. The company is seeking to place five to eight turbines about three miles off the southeast corner of Block Island and another 100 or so about 15 miles to the east. The small project would include cables from the farm to the island and from the island to the mainland. Deepwater has touted cables as a way to bring cheaper electricity rates to New Shoreham. The exact locations of the farms, however, depend on the results of a study being undertaken by scientists at the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the University of Rhode Island. That study is slated for completion in 2010.

Deepwater wants the first farm up and running by 2012 and the second, larger farm, operational a few years later. Combined, the farms are expected to generate 1.3 million megawatt-hours of electricity, or about 15 percent of the state’s electricity needs.

Federal changes helpful

Because the larger farm would sit in federal waters, Deepwater is hailing an agreement between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Interior. The Memorandum of Understanding signed last week grants the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) control of offshore wind and solar projects. MMS will also issue leases and easements for wave and ocean current energy development. The commission will issue licenses for building and operating wave and ocean current projects. Both agencies can now create rules governing offshore projects.

Previously the two agencies had sparred over control of federal waters and slowed the development of offshore renewable energy projects that were awaiting federal regulations.

“I’ve remained skeptical until I saw it in writing, but it looks like it came through as advertised,” Wissemann said.

He added that the construction of the larger project off Block Island is being held “hostage” until the MMS drafts its rules. This agreement, Wissemann said, will only speed up the release of the rules.

Local progress

As the federal government drafts rules, Deepwater is pushing ahead with studies. An avian radar station by the Southeast Light is collecting bird data. And local residents are also lending a hand, Rich said.

He added that the company is on track to erect a meteorological tower by the Coast Guard Station at the end of May. Deepwater is awaiting approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and CRMC before installing the 180-foot, single-pole tower supported by guy wires. Deepwater received permission from the town in March.