Building blocks

July 1, 2016

Audrey Leon profiles Block Island Wind Farm, which is destined to be the US’s first offshore wind project when it starts up later this year.

Jacket foundations, built by Gulf Island Fabrication, were installed in 2015. Photo from Deepwater Wind.

Block Island wasn’t meant to be first. Once upon a time, a project called Cape Wind, offshore Massachusetts on the US east coast, was supposed to take that honor. But, as luck would have it, several issues would take the proverbial wind out of the Cape Wind project’s sails, leaving Block Island the new frontrunner.

While Cape Wind’s developers were securing a two-year suspension of operations for its works last July, Rhode Island-based developer Deepwater Wind was installing the first foundations for the Block Island Wind Farm, just months after securing financing for its US$290 million project.

Once complete, Block Island, 3nm offshore Rhode Island, will have 30MW capacity, made up of five Haliade 150 6MW offshore wind turbines. The turbines, which are twice the height of the Statue of Liberty with blade tips towering 600ft above the water, will be provided by Alstom, which was acquired by GE in late 2015.

For GE, the Block Island Wind Farm is an important test of its Alstom acquisition as GE attempts to move into the US wind power market, and pose a challenge to rival Siemens. “Today, offshore wind is a small market with big potential, and the Block Island project sits at the leading edge of innovation,” said Anders Soe Jensen, CEO of GE’s offshore wind unit, in November 2015. At the time, GE called the potential for US offshore wind energy “massive” – around over 4000 GW – which according to the US Department of Energy is more than four times the US’ annual electricity production.

Acreage leased to Deepwater Wind in 2013. Map from BOEM.

The project has had the backing of the US Department of the Interior (DOI). On 27 July last year, when the Weeks 533 crane barge lowered a 400-ton steel jacket foundation in 100ft of water, a “first steel in water” ceremony held. This event brought out US Secretary of the DOI Sally Jewell, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper, Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo to support the project.

An offshore Haliade near Ostende, Belgium. Photo: A. Bocquel, GE Renewable Energy.

“Interior is proud to be a partner in this historic milestone for offshore renewable energy,” Secretary Jewell said last July. “Deepwater Wind and Rhode Island officials have demonstrated what can be accomplished through a forward-looking vision and good working partnerships. Block Island Wind Farm will not only tap into the enormous power of the Atlantic’s coastal winds to provide reliable, affordable and clean energy to Rhode Islanders, but will also serve as a beacon for America’s sustainable energy future.”

Indeed, the DOI continues to highlight renewable energy and sees Block Island as a model for future projects. According to agency’s Economic Report for Fiscal Year 2015, released in June, the DOI blocked off $97.3 million for clean energy programs in 2015, with a slice of that for offshore wind. “Over the summer of 2015, Interior’s offshore wind energy leasing efforts led to beginning construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm. This first-of-its-kind project provides a model for the future development of offshore wind energy in America,” the US agency said in June.

But, while Block Island is set to become the US’ first operational offshore wind project, it’s a global project with components from all over the world. The turbine blades were produced in Lunderskov, Denmark, then shipped to Aviles, Spain, where the tower sections were produced. The generator and nacelle were produced in St. Nazaire, France, and the bottom sections will be completed in Rhode Island. Houston-headquartered Gulf Island Fabrication carried out fabrication work on the project’s five steel jacket foundations at the firm’s Houma, Louisiana facility. Rhode Island’s Specialty Diving Services conducted additional fabrication work on components for the foundation substructures at Quonset, Rhode Island.

Offshore installation progressed rapidly, with all five steel jacket foundations installed at the site by late November 2015. According to the developers, construction crews installed the last deck platform on 21 November. Deepwater Wind said about 200 workers and a dozen construction and transport barges, had taken part in the installation campaign over an 18-week period (July-November). Fred. Olsen’s Windcarrier’s Bold Tern, a self-propelled jackup, which was contracted by Deepwater Wind in 2014, assisted with installation activities.

The jacket foundations being installed at the Block Island Wind Farm site. Photo from Deepwater Wind.

Deepwater Wind began the work to install submarine cables in spring 2016. Spooling of the 20mi-long cable, which was made in South Korea, began in early April. The installation was expected to complete by July.

Also in April, Deepwater Wind helped christen the newbuild Atlantic Pioneer, which will be used to support construction and operation of the wind farm. In May, Deepwater Wind said the vessel helped transport workers, who are tasked with pulling-in the submarine cable, to the first foundation on the site.

The firm will also get some assistance from Louisiana-based Offshore Marine Contractor’s two liftboats Michael Eymard and Lacie Eymard, both of which arrived on-scene in Rhode Island in late April.

Deepwater Wind expects installation of the five offshore wind turbines to begin in summer 2016. To complete this work, a temporary manufacturing facility was established at the Port of Providence (Rhode Island) for the assembly of turbine components. It is expected to take six months to complete the installation of critical electrical, mechanical and safety equipment within the bottom tower sections. Once assembled at the yard, the turbines will measure 270ft high and weigh approximately 440-ton.

Installed on their jacket foundations, and standing at 589ft above sea level, the turbines will be among the tallest in the world, the DOI has said. The project is expected to power about 17,000 homes. The facility will provide electricity directly from the wind farm to Block Island. Because the island uses only 1MW of power in the off-season and 4MW in the summer peak season, the remaining 90% of the energy produced during the off season will be sent to other state customers via a 25mi bi-directional submerged transmission cable between Block Island and the Rhode Island mainland.

Nacelle bodies for the Block Island wind farm.  Photo: A. Bocquel, GE Renewable Energy.

The wind farm will produce more than 100 million kilowatt hours of clean energy annually, according to DOI.

GE and DOI aren’t the only ones championing the Block Island project. National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) President Randall Luthi praised the project, and its use of typical oil and gas service providers for offshore renewables work, last July.

“It is gratifying that Deepwater Wind chose NOIA member company Gulf Island Fabrication for the off-site construction of the foundations for this project,” he said at the time. “It is also fitting that a company best known for fabricating offshore oil and gas structures played a role in constructing this historic project.

“NOIA has long supported an all-of-the-above offshore energy strategy, and we look forward to seeing more partnerships between offshore renewable companies and offshore oil and gas companies made possible by the success of the Department of the Interior’s offshore wind leasing program.”

Read more:

Embracing wind (OE July 2016)

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