First farm came online in late 2017, more to follow

The world’s largest operational offshore wind farm opened in early September. Located in the Irish Sea, the Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm has a capacity of 659 megawatts and is capable of powering 600,000 homes in the United Kingdom. The facility deployed 87 turbines over an area of 50 square miles.

Closer to home and on a much smaller scale, the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, the Block Island Wind Farm, opened for operation last December, three miles off Block Island, Rhode Island. The private project, developed by Deepwater Wind with an investment of $300 million, includes five turbines with a capacity of 30 megawatts. That’s enough to power 17,000 homes on the island, located 21 nautical miles south of Narragansett, Rhode Island, and approximately the same distance northeast of Montauk, New York.

Block Island Wind Farm

The Block Island Wind Farm brought to bear a myriad of logistics assets, including a state-of-the art installation vessel as well as seaports and airports. More importantly, it sparked the imaginations of policymakers and investors to galvanize new and much larger offshore wind energy projects in New England and elsewhere. Deepwater Wind was recently selected by Rhode Island to build a 400-megawatt facility further out to sea.

The Block Island project’s main turbine installation vessel, Fred. Olsen Windcarrier’s Brave Tern, arrived in Rhode Island during the summer of 2016, carrying the five GE turbines for the wind farm. The 433-foot long jack-up vessel, which sailed from France, is considered to be one of the world’s most advanced installation vessels, with cranes capable of lifting 800 tons. Its self-propelled jack-up system bring the vessel to a height of 480 feet above the waves during installation. GE Renewable Energy, the project’s turbine supplier, provided the five, six-megawatt Haliade wind turbines for the farm

Block Island wind farm of the coast of Rhode Island
Block Island wind farm of the coast of Rhode Island

The Brave Tern anchored in Narragansett Bay off Newport for U.S. Coast Guard inspections, after which it transited to the wind site, where it remained throughout the installation process. Assisting with the installation were the liftboats Paul and Caitlyn, heavy-lift vessels from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico operated by Montco Offshore. Those vessels shuttled turbine components from the port of Providence to the Block Island site.

With three blades per turbine, the total of 15 blades are each more than 240 feet long and weigh 29 tons. ProvPort also hosted the staging of tower components for the project, with each tower climbing to a height of 260 feet and weighing 450 tons. Over 300 local workers have been hired to help build the project, which also included installing an underwater transmission cable last week.

“You get the idea that this is a really big, complicated construction project,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski.

Final installation began in early August 2017. “It will only take about a month to get that done,” said Grybowski, “By early September the first offshore wind farm in the United States was ready to start spinning its blades.”

New Facilities

More recently, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and the Quonset Development Corporation, both semi-autonomous state agencies, entered into an agreement which could represent the first step in dedicating land beside Narragansett Bay, now part of Quonset State Airport, for the construction of port facilities serving the offshore wind industry. A final decision on the project, which would involve abandoning one of the airport’s runways, will rest with the Federal Aviation Administration. The three-year agreement is contingent upon not creating a financial burden for the airport corporation.

The Quonset airport is not the only facility slated for a possible facelift. Deepwater recently announced it would invest $40 million in improvements to the Port of Providence, in port facilities in the Quonset Business Park, and potentially one or more other Rhode Island ports.

The Block Island project is just the beginning of what is likely to be tremendous growth in U.S. offshore wind power capacity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 25 offshore wind projects with a generating capacity of 24 gigawatts are now being planned, mainly off the U.S. Northeast and mid-Atlantic coasts.

Powering Up

The Norwegian energy company Statoil is surveying federal waters 15 miles south of Long Island, where the company is planning a wind farm to generate 1.5 gigawatts of electricity for New York City and Long Island—enough to power one-million homes. Construction on Empire Wind, which will occupy 79,000 acres of leased federal waters, is scheduled to begin in 2023.

In North Carolina, 27 miles off of Kitty Hawk, Avangrid Renewables, an Oregon-based company, has begun planning for a wind energy farm on 122,000 acres of federal waters, a project that could generate 1.5 gigawatts of electricity. And 10 miles off the New Jersey coast, between Atlantic City and Cape May, the Danish clean-energy giant Ørsted, a 50-percent owner of the UK Walney project, is performing preliminary work on a project that could result in a one-gigawatt ocean wind farm on 160,000 acres.

Deepwater Wind is also currently in active development on utility-scale wind farms to serve New Jersey, Maryland (see sidebars on pages 20 and 28), Connecticut, and New York. The second Rhode Island project could span hundreds of thousands of acres and generate 1.6 gigawatts of power within a decade, enough electricity for about 800,000 homes.

“We take our position as the pioneers of the new U.S offshore wind industry very seriously,” said Grybowski, “and we’re confident the Block Island Wind Farm is just the start of an East Coast energy revolution that will transform how we power our communities.”

One wild card in deck is the attitude of the Trump administration toward wind power. Although known for promoting fossil fuels over renewable energy, the administration seems to be supporting the offshore wind energy sector. The Interior Department was instrumental in leasing federal waters to Avangrid for the Kitty Hawk project and the Energy Department late last year announced the creation of a consortium to develop offshore wind technologies.

President Donald Trump, who once disparaged the capabilities of wind power, could still throw up roadblocks to the offshore wind industry. But he hasn’t yet, so experts are cautiously optimistic about the sector’s prospects.