RIFF excited about offshore wind business

Will offer sightseeing tours of B.I. Wind Farm
Fri, 08/07/2015 - 8:45am

Charles A. Donadio, Jr., President of the Quonset-based Rhode Island Fast Ferry (RIFF) said he is excited about entering the U.S. offshore wind energy business.

“This pushes my company into a year-round commercial division of a whole new industry that never existed before,” said Donadio, during an interview with The Block Island Times. “That’s what makes it exciting. The potential is unlimited.”

On Monday, July 27, RIFF provided ferry service to the wind farm site for Deepwater Wind’s ceremonial ribbon cutting event, which was attended by 150 people, including local, state and federal officials.

“It’s really neat to see a wind farm being built here in Rhode Island,” said Donadio. “But it’s going to be really neat to see the actual turbines spinning. That’s when it becomes really cool.”

Donadio said that the spinning noise “is so subtle” that “you won’t hear them spinning” from land. “You can’t hear turbines from a mile away,” he said. “You can see them, but you can’t hear them.”

This past spring, RIFF signed a 20-year contract with Deepwater Wind to provide the crew transfer vessel to transport personnel for construction and maintenance of the wind farm project, starting in the spring of 2016.

“The boat is going to be owned by Rhode Island Fast Ferry,” said Donadio. “Rhode Island Fast Ferry will be providing all of the crew transfer and support services to Deepwater Wind for the entire 20-year lifecycle of the wind farm.”

Donadio noted that his contract with Deepwater Wind is specifically for servicing the Block Island Wind Farm. “My hope is to service the next wind farm that is being developed as well,” he said.

RIFF has contracted Blount Boats in Warren, Rhode Island to build the crew transfer vessel that will be “a 65 foot high speed catamaran, similar to the Ava Pearl, but smaller. It’s being built right now,” said Donadio. “We’re about three months into the build.” There is a boat launch ceremony planned at Blount Boats on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Donadio said that when the boat is unveiled at Blount Boats shipyard in a few weeks that it will be displayed “in two separate pieces. You’re going to have the hulls, and the main deck in one building. And then you’re going to have the first floor area where the technicians will be sitting, and then the wheelhouse on top of it,” he said. “So it's two sections in the building next to it. Eventually that will get placed on top of that (first section). It’s about 90 percent plated right now.”

“The boat’s going to be certified as an L-offshore vessel,” said Donadio, “which is strictly for offshore workers, and can carry upwards of 16 technicians, and three crew members. And also as a T-boat that can carry upwards of potentially 49 passengers, and three crew.”

Donadio explained that “a T-boat can hypothetically do sightseeing” and is similar to the Ava Pearl, RIFF’s high-speed ferry. “It can take people out to the wind farm to see the turbines. It can take people to Block Island. It can carry paying passengers,” he said. “You’re either leaving the dock as a T-boat, or as an L-boat.”

“This is something that I’ve been looking into for the past several years,” said Donadio, who noted that the first crew transfer vessel (in Europe) was a fishing boat. “I’ve been learning as much about the industry as possible.”

Donadio traveled overseas to learn from the experts who had been building wind farms there.

“I went over to Europe this past winter for about eight days,” Donadio said. “I got to visit one of the first wind farms ever built in Europe. It was really exciting. It’s still operating today.”

The wind farm Donadio noted, is the Scroby Sands Wind Farm located 1.6 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth in the U.K. It is a 30 turbine, 60-megawatt wind farm that powers 41,000 homes and was commissioned in March of 2004.

According to an Aug. 22, 2009 article on power-technology.com, “the wind farm has become a local attraction. Since it opened, around 35,000 visitors a year have been through the visitors’ information centre.”

Donadio said that he believes that the Block Island Wind Farm will become a tourist attraction and his company will offer sightseeing tours aboard his T-boats.

“Everyone’s watching this project,” said Donadio. “Now that this is coming on line there are going to be people racing to invest in the offshore industry. They have 71 wind farms overseas. All of these international finance companies wouldn’t be investing in it if they weren’t profitable.”

Donadio said, “Their wind power pricing is coming down. The more turbines, the more efficiently they’re running, and the electricity costs are coming down. We’re benefitting because we’re getting the best technology right off the bat. And we’re learning from their mistakes.”

“The whole goal of this is jobs too. Local jobs,” said Donadio. “As fast as the market can develop, I am going to develop. I’m going to try to chase down all of the developments down the east coast. We’re the only company in the United States with the experience for providing this service."

On Donadio’s website for Atlantic Wind Transfers the motto is: “setting the standard in U.S. Offshore Wind Support Services.”

"I saw the industry overseas and it’s amazing. I saw the excitement. No one here knows what's coming," said Donadio. "Once this thing (the B.I. Wind Farm) starts running there will be no looking back.”