A new American industry

Fri, 03/04/2016 - 11:45am
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BOSTON, MASS.—The Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm is being touted for making history and opening the door to future domestic offshore wind energy projects.

The pilot project is what Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski called a “game changer for the industry” during his presentation at the inaugural U.S. Offshore Wind Leadership Conference at the InterContinental Hotel in Boston on Monday, Feb. 29. “We’ve cracked the code for offshore wind in the United States. The offshore wind energy business will become an American industry,” he said.

Grybowski’s thoughts were reflected in the feelings of a consortium of wind energy professionals, who congregated at the Boston conference hosted by Matthew Morrissey, Managing Director, Offshore Wind: Massachusetts. Attendees, to name just a few, were Deepwater Wind officials, Thomas Brostrom, DONG Energy/Bay State Wind General Manager, Joseph Orgeron, Chief Technology Officer of Montco, Inc., which operates the lift-boat Robert, Kirk Meche, CEO of Gulf Island Fabrication, Inc., whose company constructed the five steel foundations for the Block Island Wind Farm, and Rhode Island Fast Ferry owner, Charlie Donadio, Jr., who is building and supplying the crew transfer vessel for the wind farm.

During lectures, speeches and discussions, wind energy professionals acknowledged that the Block Island Wind Farm has become the prototype for the construction of offshore wind farms in the United States, which may make the installation of future projects more feasible. The wind farm, located three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island, is the first of its kind in the nation. 

While developing the Block Island Wind Farm, Deepwater Wind had to develop construction protocols and learn to navigate the federal and state permitting process from scratch. This process now may become the blueprint for other domestic offshore wind projects.

“We’re on the verge of something very big,” said Grybowski during his speech at the conference. “The Block Island Wind Farm is just the first step. It will be the first in the United States, but it’s just the beginning of something much, much larger. And that’s why we’re all here today: to talk about what’s next.”

Grybowski said that he has been “coming to these (wind) conferences for many years. We’ve been talking about starting this industry for so long. I’m now pleased to say that we have started this industry. We’re now talking about moving this industry forward.”

While referencing a map of the Block Island Wind Farm, Grybowski called the five-turbine, 30-megawatt pilot project “a game changer for the industry. The Block Island project is the reason that we can have confidence” about the offshore wind energy business.

“We needed a project like (this) to start this industry,” said Grybowski. “That all started on July 26, 2015, when the 500-ton Weeks crane lifted 450 tons of steel into the water for the first foundation location. And, yes, it was a very, very exciting moment. It really was the moment where it all began.”

The sharing of thoughts, ideas and information was evident at the conference, during which industry professionals spoke about the learning curve associated with a burgeoning offshore wind energy business that they feel is on the cusp of reducing energy costs for U.S. ratepayers.

“We are finally at a turning point,” said Matthew Morrissey in his opening remarks at the conference. “This year will represent for offshore wind the sentiment expressed by the great Winston Churchill, when he said, ‘This is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. But this is the end of the beginning.’”

Grybowski echoed Morrissey’s sentiment at the conference when he noted that it took a long time for Deepwater Wind to have the momentous “steel in the water” moment. “Make no mistake, this is not an easy thing” to do, he said. “We started this project in 2008. That was when we initially conceived the Block Island Wind Farm.”

“In the intervening eight years, I think we’ve done much of the work to clear a path, a repeatable path, something that can be done over and over again, to build out offshore wind in the United States,” said Grybowski. “This isn’t Europe. We simply do things differently here. And while we have had to learn from the European experience, we have to acknowledge that we have to do it differently in the United States.”  

Grybowski said it took Deepwater Wind “several years to reach agreement on a power purchase agreement, and get through the litigation on that agreement. It took us several years longer to get through the permitting process, and get through the litigation for that permitting process. It took 26 Federal government, state government, local government approvals for this project, and litigation for those approvals.”  

“This is not a research and development project. This is a real commercial project,” added Grybowski. “It had to be a commercial project” from the beginning. “Everything that we’ve done, through the permitting, through the contracting, through the financing of this project, was done with the goal of making this a small project that is repeatable on a commercial scale.”

According to Grybowski, Deepwater Wind is now on the verge of seeing its pilot project operational in the fourth quarter of 2016. The foundations for the wind farm were completed in November, and are now awaiting installation of the three tower sections, nacelles and blades, which will occur during the upcoming summer months. National Grid is currently prepping for installation of the cable transmission system at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett and the Fred Benson Town Beach on Block Island.

“The next big thing that will happen will be the cable installation,” said Grybowski. “The cable installation is about six weeks away. The 30-miles of submarine cable that will connect both the wind farm to Block Island, and Block Island to the mainland.”

Grybowski noted that a “collective 3,000 megawatt site” off the coastline of Massachusetts is in the works by three wind energy companies, one of which is Deepwater Wind.

“If we can master the lessons” learned from construction of the Block Island Wind Farm, then “Block Island can serve as a step to something much larger,” said Grybowski. “Deepwater Wind has a 1,000 megawatt project site 15 miles to the east of Block Island. DONG Energy (Bay State Wind) has a site of similar size directly to the east of our site. And OffshoreMW, has a third site to the east of the DONG Energy site.”

The three wind farm developers have leased offshore sites approximately 18 miles off the Massachusetts coastline between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard that will be installed in a water depth of 130 feet to 165 feet. Thomas Brostrom, General Manager North America for DONG Energy/Bay State Wind, said that the company’s site will consist of up to 100 wind turbines.

“This has been a long journey,” said Brostrom, whose Denmark based company opened an office in Boston in November. “We’ve made all the mistakes that we could possibly make.”

Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, who has served on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and was the keynote speaker at the conference said, “Companies like Deepwater Wind and DONG Energy are leading the way on offshore wind in America.” Markey noted that legislation needs to be passed to extend the renewable energy tax credits that will be expiring in 2019 and can be utilized for developing offshore wind projects. “We need to give the offshore wind industry long-term certainty,” he said. 

Jim Sandon, the COO of RES Offshore (UK) said, “There’s a lot of lessons that have been learned. With Block Island you’re getting your own experience. It’s important to keep the momentum going in the U.S.”