Offshore wind power developer Deepwater Wind said it will seek Massachusetts shipbuilders to construct offshore wind service vessels for its planned Revolution Wind project off Martha’s Vineyard, and fabricate turbine foundations on the state’s southern coast.
“No company is more committed to building a local offshore wind workforce than us,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said in announcing the plan. “We know how to build offshore wind in the U.S. in the right way, and our smart approach will be the most affordable solution for the Commonwealth. This is about building a real industry that lasts.”
For its 30-megawatt pilot project at Block Island, R.I., Deepwater Wind had foundations for five turbines built by Gulf Island Fabrication, Houma, La., and barged up the East Coast, after Blount Boats, Warren, R.I., built the first U.S.-flag crew transfer vessel (CTV) Atlantic Pioneer for the project.
Maryland-based offshore wind developer U.S. Wind recently announced it has contracted with Gulf Island to build a 330' meteorological tower on its federal lease, the site of a planned 268-MW array.
One Massachusetts builder with a close eye on this market is Gladding- Hearn Shipbuilding, Duclos Corporation, Somerset, Mass. The company has a stable of Incat Crowther catamaran designs in the 65’ to 85’ range, similar to boats used in Europe, ready for when the U.S. industry grows. Company president Peter Duclos said they have been talking to the wind industry about their likely needs for CTVs that can work the waters offshore southern New England.
“We’ve been given some basic performance criteria from a number of operators and developers in the past six months but it comes down to what they want to spend to meet those criteria. In our experience the wind farm industry is very much cost driven,” said Duclos.
One critical issue for wind developers in this area will be controlling interactions with the highly endangered northern right whales that feed and migrate in those waters — especially after a brutal 2017 season that saw high mortality among the tiny population of fewer than 500 whales, blamed on ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements in Canadian and U.S. waters.
Seasonal right whale management area rules in some locations hold vessels of 65' or longer to speeds of 10 knots. So it is likely that New England wind farm developments could need a mix of CTVs under 65' and larger vessels to operate under those restrictions, he said.
Rhode Island state officials committed to supporting the Block Island project for the prospect of building a base for offshore wind industry at Quonset Point, a former U.S. Navy base at North Kingston, R.I., that’s been developed as a maritime industrial park. Grybowski is making the same pitch in Massachusetts, where his company is eyeing New Bedford, Fall River and Somerset as possible shore side fabrication centers.
Deepwater says its plan for a 400-MW turbine array in federal waters could create 2,300 jobs and have a $300 million regional economic impact. The company already plans to use the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal for construction and staging operations, and pay the New Bedford Port Authority $500,000 a year.
That would be some vindication to state and city officials, who invested in making the major East Coast fishing port into a hub for offshore wind development — spending that was ridiculed by critics of the ill-fated Cape Wind project, the Nantucket Sound wind farm proposal blocked by intense local opposition on Cape Cod and the islands.
Other developers are betting they have better odds with federal leases obtained south of the islands. Deepwater Wind says it is seeking proposals from Massachusetts boat builders for CTVs and will put out a request for information to other potential local suppliers in the coming weeks.
Construction work for the foundations will include welding, assembly, painting, commissioning and related work for the 1,500-ton steel bases to support turbine towers, creating more than 300 direct jobs, according to the company. Its base of operations at New Bedford would create 700 jobs there, Deepwater officials said.
If Deepwater’s plan for its federal lease site southwest of Martha’s Vineyard is approved, construction would begin in 2020 to have turbines operating in 2023. Energy generated offshore will be deliverable during peak demand times onshore, through a partnership with FirstLight Power, using its Northfield Mountain hydroelectric pumped storage in Northfield, Mass.
“This is the largest pairing of hydroelectric pumped (energy) storage and offshore wind in the world,” according to Deepwater.