Visitors get close-up tour of Block Island wind farm

Visitors get close-up tour of Block Island wind farm


NEWPORT, R.I. — Sea Grant representatives from across the country were joined by members of the public on a recent boat tour to the Block Island wind farm.

As the high-speed ferry pulled away from the pier in Newport on Friday, Rhode Island Sea Grant Director Dennis Nixon explained that the tour was part of national Sea Grant Week, which, this year, was hosted by the Rhode Island chapter. Representatives from the 33 state Sea Grant programs and the national office had spent the week discussing coastal issues.

“The host state gets to feature some interesting things about what’s going on with their maritime economy, so we focused on fishing and aquaculture and coastal resilience,” he said. “But the biggest news in Rhode Island, obviously, is that we’re the first state in the country to successfully have offshore wind turbines.”

In addition to Sea Grant representatives, members of the public filled about 100 of the 150 seats on the boat. Several people said they had seen the turbines from shore and wanted to get a closer look.

Chris Goubeia of Narragansett had learned about the trip online.

“I wanted to come out here because I heard about the controversy some years ago when they tried to build it,” she said.

First proposed in 2008, the Block Island wind farm, or Deepwater 1, as it is known, was built by Deepwater Wind of Providence at a cost of $300 million. Its five white turbines sit about 3½ miles off the coast of Block Island.

As the boat approached, the turbines’ immense size became increasingly evident. Standing in between 80 and 90 feet of water, each unit is 684 feet tall, with 240-foot-long blades. The blades are currently “feathered,” which means that they are not spinning yet. The units are still being tested, and are expected to begin generating electricity in November.

When it begins producing power, the 30-megawatt wind farm will supply all of Block Island’s electricity, eliminating the need for a costly and polluting diesel generator. It will also feed power to a National Grid substation in Narragansett via a cable which has been sunk 10 feet into the seabed.

Jennifer McCann, Sea Grant director of extension, explained that the key factor in the completion of the wind farm without litigation or long delays was the Ocean Special Area Management Plan. Every group using the area of the ocean where the turbines would be built was invited to participate in the decision of where they should be installed. Charter fishing boat captains asked that the project be moved to another area, and it was.

“This was a two-year process,” she said. “My team, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Coastal Resource Center, ocean engineers — we had physical geologists, oceanographers, avian experts, all participating, sitting at the table, thinking about this ecosystem and ensuring that the policies that were created for the Ocean SAMP were based on sound science and the input of the people.”

As the boat idled next to the massive yellow base of one of the turbines, passengers craned their necks to look up at the long blades, and Nixon talked about a few of the more interesting elements of its design.

“That ladder that goes into the water, that’s not a swim ladder so you can swim out to it and get aboard,” he said. “The Coast Guard required that so that if somebody was in distress, if their boat was on fire and they had to swim for it, they could swim to that and save themselves. Also, it’s a worker-safety issue. If somebody slipped off the platform and went in the water, they’d have the ability to get out by themselves.”

Deepwater Wind also commissioned a specialized wind-farm vessel from the Warren, R.I., boat-builder, Blount Marine, that is specially designed to bring workers right up to the turbine so they can step onto the platform. In addition to a series of ladders rising up the turbine’s tower, there’s a single-person elevator to bring people up to the blades.
Twitter: @CynthiaDrummon4


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