Block Island Wind Farm Set to Start Spinning Next Year

Specialty Diving Services in North Kingstown, R.I., is one of the contractors working on the Block Island Wind Farm project. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Specialty Diving Services in North Kingstown, R.I., is one of the contractors working on the Block Island Wind Farm project. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Water work expected to begin this summer

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

NORTH KINGTSOWN, R.I. — While Cape Wind has been stalled by lawsuits and canceled power-purchase agreements, the Block Island Wind Farm continues to sail along. Although the initial goal was to be running by 2013, onshore construction officially launched this month and the project is expected to have “steel in the water” this summer and be fully operational by fall 2016.

Grover Fugate, director of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), has said the planning process was aided by a master plan called the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) that mapped out offshore renewable-energy zones, preferred wind turbine design and the path for gaining approval.

The Ocean SAMP removed barriers and made partners where there could have been opponents, Fugate recently said.

Having a state-approved master guide, Fugate said, cut down on lawsuits and legal challenges that plagued the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound.

Rhode Island’s renewable-energy project is on track to be the first U.S. offshore wind farm, surpassing offshore wind proposals that had a much earlier start. A private developer launched Cape Wind in 2001; the Block Island project was initiated through a state contract awarded in 2008 by then-Gov. Donald Carcieri. A proposed 200-megawatt wind farm off the Delaware coast also was launched it 2008. The private project was tabled in 2011.

The Cape Wind and Delaware projects relied on private power-purchase agreements that were eventually canceled by electric utilities. Deepwater Wind, meanwhile, received a generous 20-year power-purchase agreement from the state Public Utilities Commission in 2010 for the Block Island project.

Cape Wind proposed 130 turbines in state and federal waters. Block Island Wind Farm will have only five turbines in state waters. Cape Wind sought approval from 17 state and federal agencies. The Block Island project required approvals from 11. Cape Wind set off local protests and was targeted by a billionaire Koch brother, political groups and politicians, including the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Thanks in large part to the Ocean SAMP, Deepwater Wind had most of its legal challenges addressed through the CRMC. Deepwater Wind formed alliances with several organizations, including environmental groups, unions, fishermen and state agencies.

Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said it helped that the project was small, carefully planned and in the right location. “The state of Rhode Island made the decision early on to support this project,” he said.

Grybowski presumably had an understanding of what it would take to make the wind farm succeed. He served as chief of staff for Carcieri before moving to Deepwater Wind in 2010.

Deepwater Wind also has larger projects in the works. The Deepwater ONE wind farm is moving forward with plans to build 200 or more wind turbines in federal waters off southern New England and another 200-turbine wind farm off the New Jersey coast.

“It is just the beginning of something much bigger,” Grybowski said at an April 27 press event to kick off construction of the Block Island Wind Farm.

Despite the strong presence of environmental groups at the recent event, there was little mention of their contribution and support for the project. The Sierra Club, the Environment Council of Rhode Island and the Conservation Law Foundation were regular attendees at public events and partners in securing key approvals.

Nevertheless, Drew Grande of the Massachusetts Sierra Club had nothing but praise for the project.

“I have to applaud Deepwater Wind all the way around for the work that they did,” he said, before he smiled and shook hands for a picture with Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council.

Grande said there were no big hurdles preventing the completion of the Block Island Wind Farm, but some concerns such as limiting construction during the migration of North Atlantic right whales.

Grybowski told ecoRI News that failing to recognize the role of environmental groups would have been a mistake.

“Obviously, renewable energy and green jobs are one of the most important rationales we have (for doing this project),” he said.

Others facts about the Block Island Wind Farm, courtesy of Deepwater Wind:

The main construction of the foundations for the five turbines will take place in Houma, La. They are scheduled to be shipped to the site, 3 miles off Block Island, by early this summer. Each foundation weighs 1,500 tons.

The maker of the foundations, Gulf Island Fabrication Inc., is the leading maker of offshore drilling platforms.

Some components for the platforms will be built by Specialty Diving Services Inc., in the Quonset Business Park.

More than 300 jobs will be needed during construction: 70 for the foundation, 40 for the turbines, 30 for the underwater cable, 40 for the above-ground cable, 90 for logistics and 40 for compliance.