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Block Island wind turbines motionless due to ‘routine summer maintenance’

The wind turbines off the coast of Block Island – known to many as the crown jewel of the burgeoning U.S. offshore wind energy industry – have gone still.

The Block Island Wind Farm turbines, 3 miles southeast of Block Island, have been in motion since their launch in 2016. But over the past several weeks, fishermen and islanders have noticed the 73-meter-long blades of four of the five turbines remain frozen in place.

The Block Island Wind Farm’s five 840-foot-tall wind turbines comprise the first operational offshore wind facility in the United States. The turbines were manufactured by General Electric subsidiary GE Renewable Energy, while the wind facility was still under the ownership of Deepwater Wind. In 2018, Deepwater Wind was acquired by Danish multinational utility company Ørsted, putting the Block Island Wind Farm in the hands of the world’s largest offshore wind developer.

Chris Raia, senior account executive with Providence-based public relations firm Duffy & Shanley, which represents Ørsted, said the turbines were shut down for the repair of “stress lines identified by GE in the turbines.”

“We put four turbines on pause as a precautionary measure and carried out a full risk assessment, which showed the turbines are structurally sound,” Raia said. “We expect to complete those repairs and all maintenance in the next few weeks as scheduled.”

He noted the repairs were in line with routine maintenance, which often occurs during the “optimal” summer months.

Concern over the structural integrity of the five Haliade 150-6MW turbines started in 2015, shortly after construction began. A September 2015 report by Houston-based ABS Group, a technical advisor and design verification consultant hired to monitor the facility’s construction, detailed broken testing equipment, unused moisture-extraction ovens, a dearth of documentation, and unverified welding practices.

Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council board members at the time described the practices as “very concerning.”

In 2019, reports emerged that a high-voltage undersea cable linking the Block Island Wind Farm to the mainland was surfacing on Block Island beaches. National Grid, which owns the power line joining New Shoreham to Narragansett, said line reburial would cost $30 million. Repairs were incomplete and paused entering this summer’s tourism season.

Bonnie Brady, board member of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance and executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, which opposed the project, worries that issues during the turbines’ construction, including the welding incongruencies, have surfaced.

Brady said she has received reports from numerous fishermen regarding work being performed on the turbines. These secondhand reports claim workers in hazmat suits are hanging from turbine blades and a brown substance on the water surface is near the offshore wind facility.

Jeffery Wright, president of the Block Island Power Co., said questions coming in from residents and tourists regarding the stationary turbines have recently increased “about 300 percent.”

“We notice them shut down from time to time,” he said. It’s not an unusual occurrence, though he said this summer’s shutdowns have stretched a little longer than normal.

The facility is estimated to produce about 125,000 megawatt-hours annually, enough to power about 17,000 homes. Wright said New Shoreham has experienced no depletion of its power supply in recent months. The island is connected to mainland power supplies via submarine cables. On-island solar panels also contribute to a stable energy supply, he said.

“Our lights are still on,” Wright said.