Wind Farm celebrates 3rd anniversary

Still attracting attention
Wed, 09/18/2019 - 4:30pm

There was no band or bunting at the Southeast Bluffs celebrating the third anniversary of the Block Island Wind Farm’s construction. The pilot project’s developer, Deepwater Wind, completed construction using a large marine vessel to affix the final blade to tower number five on Thursday, August 18 of 2016.
The anniversary brought back a flood of memories, including some early foibles that Deepwater Wind described as being part of its learning curve. There was also the deployment of unique vessels, which vaguely resembled the alien ships in “War of the Worlds,” elevating above the turbulent surf on three long legs to conduct the installation process.
In rather expedient fashion, the turbines were assembled atop their foundations in a little over two week’s time, like an erector set on an undulating sea three miles off the southeast coast of the island. Turbines, nacelles, and blades seem to be installed with relative ease utilizing the Brave Tern., Fred. Olsen Windcarrier’s 433-foot long lift boat. (See accompanying photo.)
According to General Electric, the five large Haliade turbines are capable of generating enough power to produce about 125,000-megawatt hours of electricity, with one six-megawatt turbine capable of providing more than enough energy to power Block Island.
At 560 feet tall, the turbine towers, are twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. The diameter of the rotor/blades — 490 feet — is more than double the wingspan of a 747 jumbo jet.
Construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm did not begin smoothly, as the first foundation, weighing more than 1,500 tons, was damaged while being placed from a barge into 90-feet of water. During that construction phase, a barge containing three of the wind farm’s decks broke loose on Block Island Sound, leading to a scramble by a tugboat to retrieve it.
The 30-megawatt wind farm began delivering clean, stable energy to Block Island on May 1, 2017; powering the island year-round, while sending excess energy to the Independent System Operators of New England via National Grid’s sea2shore cable. While there have been issues associated with National Grid’s cable, the wind farm has operated without any major problems.
The Times spoke with people visiting the Southeast Bluffs to get their reaction to the wind farm’s third anniversary; some were witnessing the wind farm for the first time. Most were aware of view-shed concerns and opposition regarding the project.
“We saw the wind farm for the first time coming over on the ferry, and we both said, ‘Wow!’” remarked Caroline Gear, who along with Jim Olsen, traveled from Northampton, Mass. to see the wind farm. “It’s great. We are amazed it’s located three miles offshore, and that just one of the turbines can power the whole island.”
“What’s not to love?” exclaimed Olsen. “That’s our future — I hope.” He added: “Thirty turbines would be too many, but five is okay. It’s great.”
“It’s an interesting sight,” said Rochelle Moss, standing beside her husband, Brian, and daughter, Gina Shepro, gazing out at the wind farm for the first time. “We haven’t been here, on Block Island, for five years. We say, ‘Why can’t there be more offshore wind farms in America?’”
“We see them everywhere in Europe,” added Brian.
They were struck by the size of the turbines. Rochelle said the turbines look like they are located a mile from the island. Rochelle and Brian live in Atlanta, while their daughter resides in Luxembourg.
“I knew about the controversy surrounding the project. I heard the different arguments,” said Shepro. “I think long-term it was really the right move. I have no problem with them disturbing the view, and considering the energy it provides, it’s not the worst tradeoff.”
Shepro, who makes visiting the bluffs a regular occurrence during trips to Block Island, said she “usually stops by the Southeast Lighthouse” to see the wind farm. “I can see that people are curious about it. My impression is: people have grown to accept it.”
“It’s interesting that we’re on the leading edge” in this country with the wind farm, said Pat Elmer from Wakefield, Rhode Island, who said she first saw the wind farm right after it was completed. “It was after the peak season, when we were traveling to the island on the ferry. One of the managers of Deepwater Wind told us that he was meeting with some investors to see the wind farm close up.”
“They seem about the size that I thought they would be,” noted Elmer. “I don’t mind them. We have to look at other sources of energy.”
New Shoreham Second Warden André Boudreau, who operates the food truck, Southeast Light Delights, at the bluffs, said, “It was three years ago from today when they were finalizing putting the blades on. It’s a sign of 21st century progress. People realize that and want to come see it.”
Boudreau, who also lives on the property, said he couldn’t recall anyone complaining about the wind farm. He showed The Times a utility box attached to his truck containing a fake set of switches that pokes fun at the wind farm. Boudreau said people visiting the bluffs find the prop amusing. 
Jeffery Wright, President of the Block Island Utility District, said, “The wind farm and cable have been a real game changer for us. Since connecting the island’s distribution grid to the wind farm and submarine cable, our system reliability and power quality has improved so much that everyone comments on it. Not only do everyone’s electric clocks run on time now, but the system strength allows us to ride through lightning storms and other external impacts with barely a flicker.”
First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “I’m still proud to have been a part of the wind farm development process. I think the changes that have and will come about because of the wind farm and the undersea cable, are important. We are in a much better situation now electrically and will soon catch up with most of America in terms of broadband. Virtually all of the visitors to the island I have encountered are impressed by the island’s bold step to accept the new technology and fascinated by the turbines themselves.”