While Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm had previously been predicted to finish by 2014, its turbines are now estimated to be constructed and fully operational by 2015.
Several factors have played into this delay, explained Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski, including opposition to the project, particularly legal challenges by those on-island and upstate. And a lengthy permitting process with state and federal agencies – the company’s current step – has required extensive research and reams of public documentation.
Gyrbowski estimates the permitting will end in late spring. “People need the opportunity to comment, and us to respond,” he said. After this, the next step will be the financial closing to borrow funds to construct the project, projected to happen about six months after permits have been granted.
And at the same time as the financial closing, Deepwater would be placing equipment and part orders for the construction
“Those pieces are not sitting on shelves,” he explained. “There’s a lead time, which is part of why 2015 looks more likely. It’s impossible to predict the turbines’ and cables’ lead time.”
That lead time can be a year, he said, and if the approximate six month construction window is missed, the company has to wait until the next year – for example, if parts come in the middle of the winter, the company can’t start construction then.
“These projections are moving targets,” Grybowski said. “There are times when it speeds up and slows down.” As to the possibility of project picking up speed again to finish in 2014, he said that becomes less and less likely as time goes on.
“A good part of timing issues are from making sure we’re not rushing to construction, and making sure it’s a successful project,” he said.
Part of Deepwater’s caution is environmental. The company announced on December 12 that it signed an agreement to protect North Atlantic right wales in the mid-Atlantic waters by New Jersey. The agreement has been signed with major environmental groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation. Other offshore wind developers have also signed this, but Grybowski says that Deepwater was the leader in developing the agreement.
Grybowski expects that Deepwater will sign similar documentation protecting right wales near Block Island waters.
“Right wales migrate by the island,” he noted. In October, Deepwater came before the Town Council to ask for a construction addenda to the agreement that allows construction and electric cable installation on town beach property. This request was partially because construction periods would conflict with spring whale migration.
Even if the actual wind turbines are fully operational by 2015, said Grybowski, the cables may be installed and operational ahead of the wind farm.
“We do know the cable must be installed somewhat in advance,” he noted, but how far in advance is still up in the air. “It’s very likely the cable will be working before the turbines are switched on.”
The town option agreement with Deepwater, which allows construction to install the cable and its landfall by the Town Beach, allows the company some flexibility, said Block Island Wind Farm Manager Bryan Wilson.
However, Cooneymus Road resident Mike Hickey said that the wind farm finish date could be pushed back even later, possibly until 2016 and 2017.
Hickey argues that any delay in the cable is an “opportunity missed” for the island. He said that every year that the town doesn’t have this cable installed, that’s a year the town doesn’t save $1.5 million from reduced electricity costs.
“If we don’t have a cable,” said Hickey, “we’re paying higher prices than we would.”
Grybowski said that even a standalone cable separate from Deepwater could face similar construction delays. Regardless, he noted that no one has proposed a set method to pay for a standalone cable for the island.
“The issues on the island are coming to a head,” said Gyrbowski. “I’m happy we’re moving through the permitting process and starting to debate when construction is starting.”
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