Seven years ago former Gov. Donald Carcieri first introduced the idea of utilizing offshore wind power to supply a percentage of the Ocean State’s energy needs. On Monday, April 27, the first glimpse at some of the parts of the wind turbines was seen by a group of elected officials, as well as a contingent from Block Island.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski, Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, as well as U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, toured the local construction site at Quonset Point in North Kingstown. With about 50 people packed into a tent at the entrance to the warehouse facility of Specialty Diving Services (SDS) where railings, ladders and platforms were being assembled, Grybowski, Raimondo and others lauded the developer’s efforts and said it was good to see local people working on the project.
“Welcome to the start of something big,” said Grybowski. “It’s a very important day. We’re here today to celebrate the beginning of a world class renewable energy project. We’re celebrating more than just an offshore wind farm, even though it is the first (in the nation). We’re celebrating the beginning of a new U.S. industry.”
Grybowski said that Raimondo has been a “passionate proponent of igniting our economy, creating jobs” and “building up the Rhode Island brand again, making it a proud and innovative brand.”
“I think that Deepwater Wind represents what is so great about Rhode Island, and what we have the potential to be doing,” said Raimondo. “This is an opportunity to create jobs, in a new industry, in a growth industry. It’s the first project of its kind in the country.”
Raimondo said she wants Rhode Island to be an easier and less expensive place to do business. She also said the state is going to “build out the ecosystem of wind and renewable energy, but rebrand ourselves as being more innovative, and over time, make Rhode Island a place that has lower energy costs, diversified energy supply and greener energy.”
“To all of my friends in the building trade, in front of me and behind me, it’s about time we get you to work,” said Raimondo, referring to the Quonset Point facility’s laborers and executives. “Three hundred jobs are going to be created right here on this project, and that is a wonderful thing for you and for your families. And hopefully it’s a sign of even more to come.”
“There are a few dozen workers here at SDS,” said Grybowski. “They’re really the leading edge of this project. Over the course of this project we will employ about 330 construction workers in Rhode Island. And they’re going to be involved in essentially every aspect of this project.”
Grybowski noted that the wind farm’s construction laborers will be charged with building the foundations, assembling the five wind turbines, laying the cable, running the vessels and long term project maintenance. “This is just the start of something much bigger,” he said. “We’re going to employ lots of people right here in the Ocean State.”
Deepwater Wind presented a timeline for the project that details the next steps in the Block Island wind farm construction process. With the launch of the local construction phase on April 27 at the SDS warehouse facility, officials were touting the Quonset Point industrial park as a potential hub for offshore wind energy in the United States.
“Today Rhode Island is leading the way,” said Sen. Reed. “This is great for the nation and for the future of Rhode Island. It’s about saving our environment. Quonset will become a hub for this type of industry.”
Reed said that he and Whitehouse, as well as Congressmen Langevin and David Cicilline, “were helpful in setting the stage” by raising “$20 plus million in investment in Quonset Point” to create the infrastructure so the project could be built at the SDS warehouse facility.
Reed was alluding to the $22.3 million U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant that the Quonset Development Corporation received in 2010 for road, pier, and freight improvements to increase the port’s capacity.
Whitehouse said that Rhode Island has “sailed” past other states in the quest for offshore wind energy, notably Delaware and Massachusetts, because of the implementation of the Ocean Special Area Management plan and the cooperation between the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the University of Rhode Island.
Whitehouse said he hoped that the Quonset Point SDS facility “isn’t just the place where the five Block Island wind turbines get assembled, but it becomes a regional hub, so that up and down the East Coast, when anybody wants to put up clean, renewable, safe wind power offshore, this is the place they look to.”
Grybowski explained that SDS subcontracted with Gulf Island Fabrication, which is leading the construction of the steel jacket foundations of the Block Island wind farm at its facility in the Gulf of Mexico. The project’s steel foundations will be erected this coming summer, starting around July 18, three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island, signaling the first phase of offshore construction of the wind farm.
State Sen. Susan Sosnowski, who represents Block Island, said that she was “so happy” about the launch of construction that she was “jumping up and down.”
“I’m just so excited that we are here to celebrate this,” said Sosnowski. “Jeff was there with me in the very beginning (with this project). This moves Rhode Island toward greater energy independence. My constituents on Block Island are among the most environmentally conscious people in the nation, yet as you know they get their energy from a dirty, diesel polluting power plant. And they pay a premium for it, some of the highest prices in the nation. So this project is going to change that.”
Several Block Island officials attended, including Second Warden Norris Pike, and EUTG (Electric Utilities Task Group) members Everett Shorey and Bill Penn, who all donned hard hats and toured the SDS construction facility.
“They have a lot of good working space here,” said Pike. “Good, qualified guys. I’m optimistic they’ll do a real good job. It’s important not only for Block Island, but for the country.”
“I think it’s as close to groundbreaking as you’ll ever see,” said Shorey. “It looks like it’s a reality. It’s going to happen. We’ve thought about this as a Block Island project, but it’s really clear that this is a Rhode Island project.”
The Block Island wind farm is on schedule to be the first offshore wind farm in the country when it becomes operational in the fall of 2016.
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