National Grid abandons cable project for the winter

Thu, 12/02/2021 - 2:30pm

National Grid announced on Tuesday, Nov. 30, that they would remove their equipment and cease operations on the cable reburying project until early spring 2022 when they hope to have more favorable weather and sea conditions.

The cable, which NGRID has named sea2shore, is the bi-directional electric transmission cable that was installed as part of the Block Island Wind Farm. It runs from the Block Island Power Company down Beach Avenue to Fred Benson Town Beach, and then on to the mainland. The cable also includes several strands of fiber optic cable that will be utilized for the island-wide broadband system when it is up and running.
There is a second cable, called an export cable, that runs from the Block Island Wind Farm to a substation at BIPCo.
The sea2shore cable has been plagued with problems since the beginning. It was supposed to be buried under the ocean floor at a depth of six feet, but quickly became exposed, especially in the area of the crowded town beach. There was a temporary solution of placing “mattresses” over the cable, and marking the area with buoys in the summer to protect it from boats.
While it took a while – the cable was installed in 2016 – a more permanent solution was arrived at and in the fall of 2020, National Grid went to work. This time the company would drill a tunnel approximately 30 feet below the ocean floor. Next, a conduit would be fed through the tunnel to hold the cable itself. Then the cable needed to be fed through the conduit and spliced to the existing cable.
The same sequence holds true for the wind farm cable, and for the most part, work was performed by the same crews from, or hired by, National Grid, except for the splicing of the cable sections.
Orsted, the current owner of the Block Island Wind Farm, sent a huge offshore supply vessel called Global Symphony. It spent just a couple of weeks offshore last
winter, successfully conducted its cable splice, and off it went, back to Europe.
National Grid sent a small barge. But, in the intervening time, debris had clogged the conduit for the sea2shore cable and evidently could not be cleared by mid-May when NGRID was forced to abandon the project because of Block Island’s busy tourism season.
They returned in early October and this time did manage to clear the conduit of debris and thread the new cable through it. But the tricky part is the splice. “To safe-
ly complete this work, it’s critical that we have favorable weather conditions for at least five consecutive days, which has been difficult to come by at this time of the year,” said Michael Masseur of RDW Group, Inc, a public relations firm for National Grid. “National Grid has made the decision to postpone the completion of these final steps until early spring, when weather conditions should be more favorable.”

But islanders are skeptical. One wrote on Facebook: “And they think the sea conditions will be more favorable in the spring?”
A NGRID employee supervising work at the beach told The Times back in October that its barge could only withstand up to four-and-a-half-foot seas and the barge
has been observed being towed to safer waters, and back again, a few times since its arrival, including during the week of Thanksgiving.

When the cable is being spliced, the island will go back to receiving its electricity directly from BIPCo via its diesel generators. BIPCo President Jeffrey Wright told The Times it was actually better for the power company that the cable was not being spliced now as the island is drawing a 50 percent larger load of electricity than
it was in October, and more diesel fuel, which is currently quite high in price at about $3.65 per gallon, would have been needed.