Wind farm exec looks back, forward

As construction nears completion
Fri, 08/19/2016 - 10:30am

For Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski, progress on the Block Island Wind Farm project seemed to grind along slowly for months, if not years. And then, suddenly, on a calm, hazy summer morning, as he looked out over the four completed wind turbines standing in the sea, he said, "We're on the cusp of finishing the job." This was Tuesday, Aug. 16.

As he's visited the island, he said he keeps running into people he remembers meeting at the beginning stages of the project. "We've reminisced a lot. I remember the first time I ran into someone, the first time I took a cab ride. I've heard a lot of stories from Block Islanders. I don't feel it's a Deepwater Wind project. It's a Block Island project."

During the beginning of the week, on Aug. 15 and 16, Deepwater Wind was offering tours of the project worksite for media. On Tuesday, there was a photographer from Canada, Joan Sullivan, who said she was the only photographer working exclusively on renewable energy projects in Canada. She was headed out with Chris Hobe, while Mike Ernst was chaperoning The Block Island Times and a writer and photographer from The New York Times. Newsday was here this week, PBS, Bloomberg news, and state media as well. 

The tour for The Block Island Times was moved up by a half hour because of the uncertain weather, but the sea at 9 a.m. was calm, the air hazy, and work on the fifth wind turbine was seemingly paused during the time of the tour. The bluffs off in the distance were dulled by the haze.

The wind turbines themselves boast a sleek industrial design, uncluttered and linear, but they are massive structures. Grybowski mused on the almost unfathomable amount of work and technology that has gone into creating the systems. He talked of mounting each of the three blades onto the five towers. "The blades are very susceptible to wind. They're designed to catch the wind. And here we are lifting them 130 feet in the air trying to attach them in a place that is windy. Each blade is attached by 128 bolts — putting 128 bolts into 128 holes. The bolt is a meter wide. We're trying to insert those blades as quickly as possible."

The yellow legs of the foundations have already been in the water long enough to get encrusted with barnicles.

There are 90 crewmembers, from countries all over the world, on the massive Brave Tern, the liftboat that is serving as the project's platform. A crane with an 800-ton capacity, used to lift the sections of the towers and the blades into place, is, on this morning, laying prone and still. The Brave Tern itself is floating on the water, the pilings that normally lift it up off the surface are, on this morning, standing high in the air. The crew must be taking a break, because there is not a soul to be seen.

Mike Ernst's Lindsey E. makes a few turns around the wind turbines so the photographer from The New York Times can get a better shot, and then we head back into town.

Anders Soe-Jensen, from Denmark, is sitting on the porch at Ballard's Inn finishing up breakfast. He's been with the project for about three years and is the head of Offshore Wind projects for General Electric Renewable Energy.

"There have been endless drills, endless exercises, testing, testing of the tools, testing methods, and to see this now is just the greatest feeling. It's great to be part of this." And, he added, now that the construction phase is nearing completion: "It's a great relief, there's no doubt about that."