National Grid substation underway
“It’s a powerful technical engine.”
That’s what Darlene Masse, spokesperson for National Grid, told The Block Island Times on Friday, July 22, about the utility company’s brand new substation being constructed on the Ocean Avenue property of the Block Island Power Company. “The substation serves an important function in the delivery of electricity,” she said.
The substation will be a 71-foot long, 24-foot wide and 13-foot tall steel structure housing breakers and other equipment and essential to converting electricity that is to be produced by the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm for distribution at the local level. “When you generate electricity the substation allows you to step down the electricity so a household can use it,” said Masse.
The six sections comprising the utility’s substation were factory-assembled, delivered to the island by boat, and placed in position on BIPCo’s property using a crane with a 110,000-pound lift capacity.
Peter Lavin, National Grid’s Senior Supervisor of substation construction, said the six sections of the 34.5kv (kilovolts) substation houses all of the technical equipment in a box called the “switch gear.” The switch gear allows the substation to switch from converting power delivered from the wind farm, to distributing energy being delivered from National Grid on the mainland. “If the substation isn’t receiving enough power from the wind farm, it can be switched over to its mainland source,” he said.
“It’s a unique system,” said Lavin. “The transformer was specially built for this project.” A transformer transfers electrical energy between two or more circuits. Lavin noted that the “substation will regulate the electricity, or energy, coming through it.”
Two substations are in the process of being fabricated and constructed at the BIPCo property in association with the Block Island Wind Farm project. National Grid owns one of the substations, while Deepwater Wind, owns the other.
Two 30-megawatt transmission cables, one from the wind farm and one from the mainland, will be connected to the two substations, which, once completed, will sit side-by-side. The two submarine cables are National Grid’s 20-mile long sea2shore cable that runs from Scarborough Beach in Narragansett to the Town Beach on Block Island; and Deepwater Wind’s eight-mile long export cable that runs from the beach to the wind farm site.
The two submarine cables are spliced with the terrestrial cable system in the north parking lot at the Town Beach, which runs along Corn Neck Road and Beach Avenue, to BIPCo’s property. Once installed, the terrestrial cables will be routed though BIPCo atop the company’s utility poles located in front of the diesel generation facility, then routed through a steel pole-like structure to connect with the substations.
Lavin said that National Grid and Deepwater Wind are targeting the “end of November” for the project to come online. Deepwater Wind told The Times on Monday, July 25 that that the wind farm’s blades will start spinning in September, meaning the project could be operational in November.
“Deepwater Wind will need to test all of their equipment before this system can come online,” said Lavin, who has worked for National Grid for nine years. “They need to make sure the wind farm is producing 34.5 kilovolts of electricity” before the substation becomes live.
Lavin explained that National Grid’s substation is a “plug and play” facility, meaning that if a piece of equipment is malfunctioning, or in disrepair, it can be removed and replaced with a new component piece. “That’s the nice part about this substation,” said Lavin. “For the most part you can replace something without interrupting service. It provides for a lot of flexibility.”
“The substation is a box that protects the equipment inside,” said Lavin. “The equipment is enclosed to protect it from the weather, and animals, things that can cause an outage. It helps with reliability. And it also has a backup battery system.”
Lavin said the enclosed substation facility will allow for National Grid’s technicians to work in either a heated or cool environment, as it is equipped with two air conditioning units and a heating system. “That helps maintain the life of the equipment inside,” he said.
Lavin said one of the great benefits of the wind farm project is the fiber optic strands embedded in the cable that the town of New Shoreham can utilize for broadband purposes. “That will provide more opportunity for growth on the island. You have to keep up with technology. It’s the wave of the future. It will open up a whole new world here.”
When asked his thoughts about BIPCo’s equipment, Lavin remarked, “You have an old infrastructure that’s not going to last.” Lavin has been working out of a temporary facility on the BIPCo property since April, so he is familiar with the power plant’s equipment. Just before midnight on Friday, July 22, three of BIPCo’s diesel engines were damaged during a fire, causing a lengthy island-wide power outage.
Reached for comment regarding the fire, Masse said, “There was no damage to National Grid’s substation construction project as a result of the fire on BIPCo property.”