Offshore, Project Development, Wind Power

US Offshore Wind Gets a Much Needed Boost

Construction of the first U.S. offshore wind farm is underway off the coast of Rhode Island, and earlier this month saw the unveiling of the transfer vessel that’s going to usher it to completion. Built in partnership with Deepwater Wind, Atlantic Wind Transfers and Blount Boats, the vessel is the first of its kind ever to be constructed in the U.S.. Early sea trials are scheduled for April of 2016, and the vessel is expected to be put into operational service the following month.

Charlie Donadio, president of Atlantic Wind Transfers, described the vessel as “a 21-meter catamaran with capacity for three crew and 16 offshore technicians.” It will be used for the transfer of both equipment and wind farm personnel in support of the construction and operational phases of the Block Island Wind Farm some 15 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island.

“We’ll have capacity for 12 tons of cargo in the bow, and three tons in the stern,” Donadio said. “The foredeck will be fitted with a deck crane to help move equipment, ranging from tools to construction materials and spares.”

Donadio said the unveiling of the transfer vessel is “a timely reminder” that if given enough support, the fledgling U.S. offshore wind industry could be poised to reap “significant domestic investment, manufacturing and employment success.”

As yet, the U.S. offshore wind power industry is nonexistent. The Deepwater project, which received $290 million in financing earlier this year, stands to change that by taking a significantly more manageable approach than previous failed attempts like the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, which has been struggling for more than a decade.

Donadio is confident the completion of the Block Island Wind Farm will be the catalyst to propel the industry forward in the U.S. “I see it as a stepping-stone, which will trigger a fast track for more projects that will move from the development and permitting phase into the financing and construction phase,” Donadio said.

Atlantic Wind Transfers, which is the commercial wind support services arm of Rhode Island Fast Ferry, cited a 2013 Navigant report projecting the U.S. offshore wind industry may be worth as much as $2.2 billion by the year 2020 – a forecast that greatly hinges on the U.S. government’s intentions surrounding further offshore wind development.

“It’s crucial that Washington develops a full understanding of the wider economic benefits the U.S. offshore wind industry can deliver,” Donadio said. “In order for that to happen, groundbreaking initiatives such as Block Island can’t be viewed in isolation and must set an important precedent for future development.”

According to Donadio, the transfer vessel may prove useful in other areas not related to the offshore wind farm’s construction or operation. It will also be able to operate as a Subchapter “T” Vessel, capable of ferrying up to 49 passengers for recreational use in proposed sightseeing tours.

“Tourism is another industry that may yet benefit from U.S. offshore wind development,” Donadio added.

The Block Island Wind Farm will be powered by five turbines and will have a total generating capacity of 30 megawatts.

Images of the offshore wind transfer vessel under construction. Credit: Atlantic Wind Transfers.