With two halves of first U.S. offshore wind turbine crewboat already shaped in bare aluminum, the mood was festive at Blount Boats shipyard in Rhode Island, where a ribbon cutting for the new vessel was held Wednesday.
After its planned delivery in April 2016, the 70’ catamaran will be speeding people and parts offshore to the Deepwater Wind turbine project near Block Island, R.I., a pilot project of five wind turbines that will produce up to 30 megawatts.
Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski gave credit to Marcia Blount, who heads the family shipyard founded by her father Luther, for pursuing the offshore wind market even when it looked stalled in New England.
The whole enterprise owes a lot to Rhode Island politicians too – for government grants to help build infrastructure for wind development, even more so for power contracts that give higher pricing to assist the industry.
That’s given some ammunition to wind power opponents – from free-market advocates who object to subsidies, to fishermen afraid they will be shut out of offshore wind turbine areas.
There have been embarrassing failures on land. A few miles south of the shipyard, critics can point to one of their monuments – a motionless wind turbine high on a hill that cost the town of Portsmouth, R.I., $3 million and ran for three years before its gearbox broke down.
The community has been debating the cost of fixing it, compared to eating its losses and taking the turbine own.
Down in New York Harbor, a similar sight presents itself with a stalled wind turbine at the city water plant at Bayonne, N.J. City utility officials and the water company can’t agree on who should pay to fix it.
In Massachusetts, parts for an onshore wind project in Plymouth were landed at New Bedford’s renovated $113 million marine terminal, paid for with state taxpayer money on the premise that the Whaling City would become a center for wind projects.
But the overland delivery of parts from the terminal has been delayed, as neighboring towns haggle over routes to the construction site.
There are success stories – notably at Atlantic City, N.J., where five onshore turbines have been spinning on the city’s skyline for a decade, powering public water and sewer systems.
But an offshore Atlantic City project similar to Deepwater’s Block Island plan has been stalled for years. The developers, Fishermen’s Energy, and state utility regulators continue to battle in court over the real long-term cost to ratepayers from wind power.
So a lot is riding on the Rhode Island venture, a feeling that was apparent underneath all the excitement Wednesday.
“We are here because we are on the cusp of great change,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.