Rhode Island offshore wind farm gets giant 6-MW turbines

The blades for five giant wind turbines from the French company Alstom will be delivered to Deepwater Wind in Europe in April under a contract announced this week. So when will Deepwater be able to put them to use in what could be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S.? Not nearly as soon as hoped.

Deepwater had said in late 2012 that it expected its permitting for the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm – about 15 miles northeast of the tip of Long Island, but in Rhode Island waters – to be resolved by early 2013, allowing it to have turbines generating power perhaps by late this year. But according to CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, it’s now likely to be 2016 before the turbines are actually installed.

Block Island Wind Farm location (image via Deepwater Wind)

“Because of the permitting and manufacturing schedules, that likely won’t happen until the spring or summer of 2016, said Grybowski,” the Providence Journalreported this week. “He said the steel jacket foundations for the turbines could be secured to the ocean floor in the fall of 2015, but winter construction restrictions would delay installation of the turbines until the following year.”

Given that the turbines won’t be needed for a couple of years, you might wonder why Deepwater made this deal with Alstom so soon. Well, as is so often the case, it comes down to tax implications. The Deepwater-Alstom deal was actually struck in December, and according to the Journal, Deepwater made its first payment on the contract then. That and other work should allow the project to qualify for a 30 percent investment tax credit. The ITC for wind, which can be taken in lieu of the 2.3-cents per kilowatt-hour production tax credit, expired on Dec. 31.

The Haliade 150 (image via Alstom)

“Deepwater Wind’s multi-million dollar payment to begin manufacturing our project’s 15 blades ensures that our project will qualify for the federal Investment Tax Credit,” Grybowski said in a statement. “When combined with engineering and permitting work we already completed, we’re confident this payment puts us significantly over the required 5 percent ‘safe harbor’ for the ITC.”

Cape Wind, the much larger project planned for farther up the New England coast, similarly made sure to be “under construction” before the end of 2013.

The Block Island Wind Farm will use Alstom’s Haliade 150 direct drive 6-megawatt turbine. While these are huge turbines, Deepwater said they’ll actually allow for a “reduced visual impact” compared to earlier plans. “The Haliade’s efficient design means that, at 589 feet tall, the turbines will be about 10 percent – or roughly 70 feet – shorter than Deepwater Wind’s maximum height allowance provided for in the company’s permit filings,” the company said.

And get this: The companies say that these latest-technology turbine will allow the wind farm to operate at a 47 percent wind factor. Onshore wind farms, using smaller turbines and typically less consistent wind, commonly have capacity factors between 30 and 35 percent.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling