By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — While offshore construction is idle, onshore assembly of the Block Island Wind Farm is moving along.
Not far from the Narragansett Bay Commission's three spinning, land-based wind turbines and port facilities that ship coal, propane and oil, Deepwater Wind and General Electric held a recent press conference to celebrate the midpoint of construction for the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
“This is the year we are going to finish,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowsky said during the March 18 event at ProvPort Inc.
Five bottom sections for the ocean-based wind towers stood like rockets waiting to launch as politicians and business and labor leaders praised the renewable-energy project. The 95-foot-tall steel tubes, however, won’t be firing into the cosmos, but will instead be shipped vertically down Narragansett Bay this summer to commence the next phase of the $300 million project.
Despite struggles last fall with safety reports and damage to the foundations caused by rough seas, the five-turbine wind farm is on schedule to be operational by the end of the year. Although painting and a few punch-list tasks were unfinished before winter, the first phase of construction was generally finished, with the completion of pile driving and the installation of the “jacket” foundations for each turbine.
On the city's industrial waterfront, the bottom of three sections for each tower are being fitted with electronics and other hardware before they are floated 3 miles southeast of Block Island. Two more sections will arrive at the Providence site before the 270-foot-tall towers are assembled. Once the blades are attached, each turbine will stand 560 feet tall. By comparison, the wind turbines at the Narragansett Bay Commission are 364 feet tall.
Submarine cable installation is scheduled to begin this spring. The transmission cable will be buried 4-8 feet below the sea floor. A 7.2-mile line will connect the wind farm to the Block Island Power Co. A 25.1-mile cable will run from Block Island to Narragansett.
Gov. Gina Raimondo lauded the Providence portion of the project for producing 160 high-paying jobs. According to an iron workers union representative, the hourly pay plus benefits equates to $58 an hour.
Although the Providence operation is a temporary facility, Raimondo said the project is establishing Rhode Island as a building hub for wind projects.
“Wind energy is the only indigenous form of energy we have. It’s clean, it’s economically competitive and Rhode Island is going to lead the way,” she said.
The event was hosted in a short-term warehouse built and operated by GE. Last year, GE acquired the energy assets of France-based Alstom for $10 billion. Five GE turbines will be installed at the Block Island project. Each turbine has the capacity to generate 6 megawatts of electricity, or about 90 percent of the energy used on Block Island.
The 105-acre site at ProvPort also includes New England Petroleum, a diesel fuel and home heating oil distributor; Univar, an industrial chemical distributor; scrap metals processor Schnitzer Northeast; and Enterprise Products & Terminals, a propane shipping terminal and distributor.
The ProvPort site is one of four onshore project locations in Rhode Island. The others are Port of Galilee in Narragansett, Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, and Block Island.