Offshore wind energy developer Deepwater Wind is beginning a five-month survey of its federal leases off southern New England and Maryland, using the Seacor liftboat Supporter and other offshore service vessels.
The 132'x77’ Supporter, with its 200' jackup legs, was prepared at the Specialty Diving Services Quonset Point facility in North Kingstown, R.I., to deploy this week with a team of 25, including geotechnical specialists, engineers, biologists, archaeologists and mariners.
Accompanying them is the 104'x24'x7.4' offshore utility vessel Matthew J. Hughes, operated by Boston Harbor Cruises’ offshore logistics group. The group will be surveying the seafloor on a federal lease Deepwater Wind was awarded for its planned South Fork Wind Farm and Revolution Wind projects, tracts that begin about 30 miles east of Montauk, N.Y., on the east end of Long Island, and about 15 miles south of Rhode Island.
A team from the engineering design company GZA's office in Providence, R.I., which did the survey work for Deepwater’s 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, will handle the new survey, overseeing offshore core sampling and conducting geotechnical analysis of the sediments. The work will continue over the coming month, with additional surveys planned from September to December, according to a statement issued by Deepwater Wind.
Upcoming work includes geophysical studies, including high-resolution surveys to identify boulders buried in the seafloor, a consideration for setting the locations for turbine foundations. The company says its contractors will use sonar, magnetometers and other tools to measure the depth and slope of the seafloor.
Meanwhile, marine biologists aboard will use acoustic monitoring systems and thermal imaging cameras to alert the survey teams of any marine mammal activity in the area. The endangered northern right whale is a species of particular concern in waters off southern New England, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration frequently issues advisories and calls for restricted vessel speeds when whales are present.
Another survey got underway last week for the Deepwater Wind Skipjack Wind Farm, planned for a federal lease off Maryland and Delaware. The subsea engineering company Oceaneering, with offices in Hanover, Md., is conducting the first phase of those studies, using the 145'x34'x8' OSV/survey vessel Danielle Miller, operated by Miller Marine Services Inc., Port Jefferson, N.Y.
The OSV was outfitted for the mission at the Port of Baltimore, with modules including a data processing lab with a high-bandwidth satellite communications link. As in the New England effort, a team of up to 75 will include experts who will assess the lease are for sites with ecological or historical significance, according to Deepwater Wind.
Using local labor and building support infrastructure in coastal states is a big part of Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski’s political and public relations strategy. In New England, the company is using local contractors and union labor, and promises to use shipyards in the region to build offshore support vessels.
In Maryland, the company says it will invest some $200 million during the construction phase of Skipjack, including $13 million at the Port of Baltimore and $25 million for a new steel fabrication facility.
But wind developers are facing stronger pushback as their plans advance. In Ocean City, Md., local officials who pressed Deepwater to set a minimum 17-mile distance from shore, now are pushing for a farther offshore setback, saying they still worry about the effect it will have on the area's tourism economy.
In late July, developer Vineyard Wind agreed to a two-month extension of its application to Rhode Island coastal regulators, who are hearing from commercial fishermen. Industry advocates say Vineyard Wind and other operators planning turbine arrays are not giving adequate attention to fishermen’s needs in designing the installations. That includes concerns that towers will not be spaced far enough apart to allow safe navigation and operation of trawl nets and other mobile gear.