Expanding Deepwater Wind keeps R.I. project on front burner

Mon, 07/06/2009 - 4:15am

07/04/09 - Deepwater Wind is expanding at a whirlwind pace, but a company executive says its Rhode Island projects remain top priority.

In June the company secured an exploratory lease off New Jersey that allows it to study the potential for an offshore wind farm. That adds to Deepwater’s stable of four exploratory projects stretching from Delaware to Maine. And it’s already partnered with PSEG Renewables to form Garden State Offshore Energy to develop offshore wind projects serving New Jersey.

Deepwater Chief Operating Officer Chris Wissemann said Tuesday that the company had no illusions about tackling multiple billion-dollar projects simultaneously. The company, he said, wanted to first establish a foothold at the Quonset Business Park, where it has agreed to lease 117 acres.

“Quonset is our staging for all of our projects on the East Coast, so it will be first,” Wissemann said. “Let’s make it clear that these are massive projects we are developing and it will take a lot of resources to develop them. We are fully cognizant of that, so we’re not going to try and do 10 projects at once.”

Plans for the Rhode Island project remain the most advanced. Deepwater officials were celebrating this week the signing of legislation that mandates the state’s largest electricity distributor purchase its electricity. [See related article on Page 1.]

Last week the U.S. Department of Interior awarded Deepwater an exploratory lease off New Jersey. Wissemann said the lease would allow Deepwater to start environmental studies while the federal government finalizes rules governing offshore wind farms.

The leases, the first of their kind ever issued by the federal government, allow for the construction of meteorological towers from six to 18 miles offshore to collect site-specific data on wind speed, intensity and direction.

The announcement of the lease, made by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, provided another feather in Deepwater’s cap and raised its profile with investors. And Deepwater is quick to seize an opportunity to shine as states and the federal government increasingly show a willingness to embrace offshore wind farms.

“This is a real growth sector and positive accomplishments keep the capital flowing for the business,” Wissemann said.

Deepwater is backed by New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. and private wind energy company First Wind. The company has said it will use no public money or ask the state to create new tax breaks. As a privately held company, Deepwater is not required to file detailed financial reports, but officials have insisted it will weather the financial crisis.