Wind farm details from the PUC file

Mon, 01/18/2010 - 6:00am
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1/16/10 — Construction of the Block Island Wind Farm will generate between 35 and 50 local jobs, and possibly more if assembly of the towers, platforms and turbines is done at Quonset Point, Deepwater Wind has said in papers filed with the state Public Utilities Commission.

After construction, the operation and maintenance of the eight towers and turbines would take six full-time equivalent jobs, Deepwater added.

But Deepwater expects to move on from the small-scale Block Island project to the 107-turbine Rhode Island Sound Wind Farm, in federal waters east of Block Island, and together it expects the projects will generate “the equivalent of approximately 600 or more direct jobs and many more indirect jobs.”

However, in another response, Deepwater expressed uncertainty that it can get its Quonset Point operation going in time for the Block Island project.

These are among the answers to questions posed by participants and interveners in the run-up to PUC hearings in March on a power price contract between Deepwater and National Grid, the mainland distributor of power.

Some of the questions don’t have ready answers. For example, the PUC analysts asked Deepwater to list the “capacity factors for all utility-scale” wind turbines “operating along the eastern seaboard,” both onshore and offshore.

Well, there aren’t any offshore turbines yet. And there’s only one “utility-scale” wind turbine on the state seaboard, in Portsmouth.

Deepwater reported that most wind projects in New England are found at high elevations and operate at 20 to 30 percent of capacity. “It is likely, but not certain” that turbine installations at the low elevations of Rhode Island “would experience lower capacity factors.”

Island farm cost

Asked by the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers about capital costs of installing the eight turbines of the Block Island project, Deepwater set the figure of $219,311,412.

But no contracts have been signed, Deepwater pointed out. Here’s the list of costs: structural engineering, the turbines, foundation, pile and pile template fabrication, topside fabrication, electrical cable and substation on Block Island, offshore transportation and installation of all the bits and pieces, utility system hookup, project management and inspection, insurance, development costs and financing costs.

Asked about mobilization costs — the assembling of ships, workers and material — Deepwater estimates that they probably will add up to a third of the total offshore transportation and installation costs. It pointed out that, “vessel charter cost varies according to level of offshore construction activities in Gulf of Mexico, making it highly volatile.”

The island timeline

Based on current plans, Deepwater says it expects the wind turbines to go up in the first to the third quarters of 2012.

It has told the PUC that it expects the Coastal Resources Management Council offshore site evaluation process, known as the special area management plan (SAMP), will be done by the third quarter of this year and permitting will be complete by the first quarter of next year. Foundation engineering is to be done by the end of this year. The cable to the mainland is to be installed in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012.

Asked by the Conservation Law Foundation about preliminary studies, Deepwater lists bird, bat and fish habitat studies, eel grass surveys, scour and construction noise assessments, marine mammal and sea turtle studies, upland and ocean archeological studies and visual impact studies.

But because “no offshore wind farms have yet to date been fully permitted,” the project timeline has to be considered speculative because additional study requests might be forthcoming from permitting agencies, Deepwater warned.

Financing

Both the Division of Public Utilities and the Conservation Law Foundation pressed Deepwater for financing information. It’s too early, Deepwater responded — typically, the task of raising or borrowing capital comes after the power price is settled, permits are in hand and detailed engineering is complete, all of which is expected to be done by late this year.

But, Deepwater points out, it depends heavily on governmental incentives for renewable energy projects and a federal loan guarantee, which “is practically required in order to attract the requisite investment….” It is so certain of the loan guarantee that it “has factored this into the price already offered to National Grid.”

To an associated inquiry, Deepwater anticipates the wind farm financing will be about four parts debt to one part investment capital.