NGRID's tactics and boat challenged

Fri, 12/10/2021 - 9:41am

As previously reported in The Block Island Times, National Grid has pulled out, packed up, and headed home for the winter. And when they come back in the March, this time things might be different.

The company has been working on reburying its sea2shore cable for quite some time, as the original cable that carries electricity from the substation on Block Island to the mainland had become exposed. Orsted, whose cable brings electricity from the wind farm to the substation on Block Island and was also exposed, completed their reburying project last spring.
National Grid ran into trouble in the spring when the conduit that had been buried under the ocean floor became clogged somehow, before the contractor was able to
feed the cable through the conduit. There has been general concern on the island that the team from National Grid might be in over their heads, as the project was abandoned in the spring due to the coming tourist season, then picked up again in the fall, and now abandoned again for the winter. National Grid was on the Zoom call with the Town Council on December 6 to give an update on the status of the project, and to field questions from the council members and public.

During her introduction, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford asked the question everyone has been asking since National Grid announced they were leaving until spring due to adverse sea conditions: “Why can’t they bring a larger barge and raise it out of the water like Orsted did so they are not subject to the water conditions?”

National Grid spokesperson Joe Murphy told the council that while the “most prudent” option was to delay completion of the project, there had been some successes this fall. The blocked conduit has been cleaned and the cable has been pulled through. All that is left is to splice the cable. Dave Arthur, director of Complex Property Management, the contractor working on the project, joined the call to explain just how complex the operation is. According to Arthur, once the cable is cut, the team needs a five-day window of good weather to complete the splice. During that time, the island will run on the diesel backup generators. After several weeks of watching the weather, Arthur says, “We took a step back and determined we wouldn’t be able to be successful.”

Arthur says one of the options being considered is to switch from an anchor barge to a jack barge when they come back in the spring. He explained that while an anchor barge has more flexibility than a jack barge, the sea conditions affect the anchor barge more than the jack barge. A jack barge has jacks that lift it up out of the water so the rolling seas have little effect on the platform. The downside is that it takes up to a day to move a jack barge into a new position. According to Arthur, once the cable is cut, wind and currents can cause the loose end of the cable to move around some, which might lead to the barge needing to be moved to accommodate the cable’s position. This, in turn, could cause a daylong delay in the spicing, resulting in a longer period of time the island will be operating on diesel
generators. Arthur said National Grid was still “evaluating the possibility of a jack barge.”
National Grid also pointed out that the outfit that had reburied the cable for Orsted could not perform the work for National Grid, as the equipment used needed a depth of 40 feet. The work area for the National Grid cable is only 25 to 30 feet. Orsted’s cable was located further offshore at a greater depth.
Council Member Keith Stover said he appreciated that National Grid said they recognized the potential damage this was doing to their reputation, and urged the representatives to work with Jeffrey Wright of Block Island Power Company, the town manager, and Director of Public Works Matt Moynihan so that “they can tell us it’s a good plan.” He also reminded National Grid that the agreement with the town requires National Grid to return the parking lot to “pre-construction condition,” which Stover said means “before you started.” Murphy had mentioned fixing the parking lot by the end of the week.
Council Member Mark Emmanuelle told the reps from National Grid that he was “concerned about you undertaking this project within a project.” Citing the earlier and earlier start of the tourist season he pointed out that a March start time doesn’t leave much leeway. “There’s an urgency to get it done in that timeframe.”