Wind Farm goes live

Foggy day doesn’t dampen celebration
Fri, 05/05/2017 - 9:15am

With the foghorn sounding in the background, the Block Island Power Company hosted an event at the Southeast Lighthouse bluffs to celebrate the switch over from the utility’s diesel burning generators to clean, wind-generated energy from the Block Island Wind Farm. Unfortunately, as New Shoreham First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “It’s typical Block Island — nature is having its way;” the intended backdrop of the wind farm’s five wind turbines was obscured from view by dense fog.   

The fog combined with unusually light wind conditions didn’t put a damper on the celebration. The island received wind-powered energy at about 5:30 a.m. on Monday, May 1.

“The weather is unfortunate, but welcome to Block Island,” said BIPCO Interim President Jeffery Wright. “It’s a very good day for us. Congratulations Block Island.” Wright said that BIPCo’s connection to the wind farm and mainland grid “allows us access to stable wholesale energy markets, nearly eliminates our reliance on fossil fuels,” and “frees up space on the Block Island Ferry, which has transported nearly a million gallons of diesel fuel to the island annually.” 

“I can assure you, there are five wind turbines out there,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski, who recalled meeting with former Town Manager Nancy Dodge on the island back in 2008 regarding the project. “This is an incredibly special moment for us. It’s a historic day. It’s one I’m very proud of.” Grybowski said that the biggest lesson learned from constructing the $300 million wind farm was “patience and persistence, and being able to have the mindset to weather the ups and downs.”

“We’ve crossed a milestone,” said Lacoste, who noted the “significance of the moment, earlier this morning,” when “violent detonations of diesel fuel were replaced by graceful revolutions of sleek turbine blades as a symbol of Block Island’s main source of alternate energy.” 

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Second Warden Norris Pike. “This is the reward of public life — to slog through a challenging process like this, and have the reward that it happened. It’s fantastic.”  

“We did it,” said former First Warden Kim Gaffett. “I am thrilled. I think it’s great for Block Island.” During the event, Gaffett urged Wright to give credit to Deepwater Wind Project Manager Bryan Wilson, who has served as the island’s liaison for the project. Wilson stepped forward and received a round of applause, and words of praise from officials.  

Nancy Dodge, who has been involved with the project since its inception, said, “It’s happened. It’s a reality. It’s a marvel — an engineering marvel. The last great place just got a little greater.” 

“This is a pretty exciting day. I want to jump up and down,” said State Sen. Susan Sosnowski. “I’m super excited that it is finally happening. The wind farm is giving Rhode Island energy independence.” 

State Rep. Blake Filippi said that although it was a “momentous occasion,” it was also “a wonderful opportunity” for the economy of Block Island. Filippi feels that the maintenance of the wind farm can be an educational and training tool and provide jobs on the island.  

Brian Gemmell, Vice President, Strategy and Performance, National Grid FERC Jurisdiction, said that the utility company was “thrilled to be a part of this important project.” Gemmell called it an “incredible achievement,” and said that “National Grid wants to see more renewable energy come onto the grid.” National Grid owns the $125 million cable transmission system associated with the wind farm. 

BIPCo Transition Team member Bill Penn told The Times that when he “saw the clock stop this morning I crossed my fingers. And five minutes later it restarted.”

Wright said that since BIPCo employees have held the long standing tradition of keeping “the light on since 1925” it was emotional shutting down the generators at the plant. Wright said Night Watchman James Milner got teary-eyed when he took the final set of readings at the plant on Sunday night. “I think he realized that that period (of diesel generation) had come to an end.”

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Wright about working at BIPCo during his three- month tenure. “But it feels good to finally get to this point. It hit home this morning at BIPCo when the guys shut the engines off. It was kind of the end of an era for them.” Wright said when the loud diesel engines were shut off the BIPCo staff could hear the birds chirping.