Deepwater Wind announced that it had completed its first major phase of construction by sending out a Tweet on Monday, Oct. 26, stating: “Pile driving is complete at the #BlockIslandWindFarm! #JourneytoFirst”
In a follow up to that, Deepwater Wind spokesperson Meaghan Wims told The Block Island Times, “We completed pile driving on all five foundations on Monday morning. Each of the four, five-foot wide steel piles were driven 200 feet into the seabed to secure the foundation. These piles, and the foundations they secure, are designed to withstand the most extreme storm events in the Northeast, including a modeled 1,000-year storm.”
The next step in the process will be installing the 56-foot tall deck platforms atop each of the five foundations that have been seen off the coast of the island during the past week or so. All of the decks will be welded to the top section of the steel jacket foundations 13-feet above the waterline and stand 69 feet above the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
“That work will be ongoing for the next several weeks,” said Wims. “We expect the work to take several more weeks to complete. There are no restrictions on the timing of that work.”
Wims was asked if the construction installation process would be easier if the foundation components were installed in the water with the deck platforms already attached to the foundations as one singular component.
“It would not be an easier installation process,” said Wims. “With a one-piece foundation, the piles are more difficult to install, requiring underwater pile driving and pile grouting, two techniques that we determined were less optimal than above-water pile driving with a two-piece foundation.”
The unpredictable Atlantic Ocean has on occasion presented challenges for Deepwater Wind. Three wind farm decks affixed to a transport barge came close to shore on Oct. 20 after its mooring line broke on Block Island Sound. Two tugboats managed to safely guide the barge containing the decks back out to sea.
Deepwater Wind has acknowledged that the L/B Robert has been a key component in facilitating construction of the Block Island Wind Farm foundations in harsh ocean conditions. The L/B Robert, built by Montco, is like a small floating city, containing four cranes, a self-elevating hull, three 335-foot long legs and the ability to rise 240 feet above sea level at a maximum working water depth of 280 feet.
During parts of the past two months, the Robert, which utilized a hydraulic hammer to conduct pile driving activities on the wind farm foundations, was observed along the southern Rhode Island coast and at the wind farm site. The Robert will now be utilized to install the deck platforms atop the wind farm’s foundations.
While construction activity is being conducted, Deepwater Wind has stressed the importance of protective measures designed to minimize the potential impact on North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals. Deepwater Wind signed an agreement in May of 2014 with a coalition of leading environmental and conservation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Conservation Law Foundation, to implement the protective measures.
“All pile driving was done under a set of strict rules designed to avoid harming sensitive marine species, especially endangered whales like the North Atlantic right whale and the humpback whale,” said Wims. “We are pleased to report that the work was completed without any harm to the environment or marine species.” According to several local reports, a whale was seen in the area of the wind farm construction site on Sunday, Oct. 25.
The Coast Guard established a 500-yard safety zone around each of the wind farm’s five foundations to safeguard mariners from the hazards associated with construction activity. Under mariner rules, vessels are prohibited from entering, mooring or anchoring within the five specified safety zones. The wind farm’s five 6-megawatt wind turbines will stand approximately 600-feet tall and are spaced 2,000 feet apart.
Once the deck platforms are affixed to the five foundations, and the work is complete, construction activities on the Block Island Wind Farm will fall dormant until they commence again in the late spring/early summer of 2016. That’s when erection of the five wind turbines, each containing three 240 foot long Alstom blades, will be erected.
In related news, a coalition of environmentalists, public health advocates, faith groups and public officials sent a letter on Oct. 22 to President Barack Obama lauding his efforts in promoting “clean energy” initiatives, and the Block Island Wind Farm specifically.
In the letter, the groups stated that, “We were pleased to see your recent leadership in convening the White House Summit on Offshore Wind and commend these new efforts to promote collaboration between the states and federal agencies.” The group added that they “are counting on your leadership to ensure that the Block Island Wind Farm is truly the beginning of a new energy chapter for America – one that finally taps the massive clean energy source waiting just off our shores that has the capacity to transform the energy portfolios of states along the Atlantic coast.”
Numerous national, regional and state groups supported the letter sent to the President, including 12 groups from Massachusetts and 62 organizations from Rhode Island. The Rhode Island groups included the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, Clean Water Action Rhode Island, Fossil Free Rhode Island, The Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club, to name a few.
In response to the letter, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski told The Times that, “We applaud our partners in the environmental community for highlighting the importance of building an offshore wind energy industry in America. We believe that the Block Island Wind Farm is the first step toward this new clean energy future for the populated centers of the U.S. East Coast.”
Deepwater Wind has said that the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm will be completed and become operational in the fall of 2016.
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