ALL THE EXCITING PRESS about the installation of windfarms focuses on the seemingly blithe turbine blades swirling innocently in the free breeze offering efficient, economical and carbon imprint free electricity to the east coast of the United States.
That is the mantra offered by Baker, Raimondo, Lamonte and Cuomo. And to make sure no one sings off key the public is reminded of the tens of thousands of jobs and commercial contracts that attend to this wonderful new age. Cementing that certainty is the new president Biden naming Raimondo to Commerce so that NOAA doesn’t get up on its high horse and start to discuss the real harm marine wind installations can and will cause marine ecology, to say nothing of wrecking a significant portion of the commercial fishing industry.
Raimondo was a two-term governor of the ocean state, Rhode Island, where her antipathy to commercial fishing is well known and established. This state is the leader in the 100 million dollars plus squid industry which is certain to be impacted—possibly materially transformed and not in a good way—by the installation of Vineyard Wind and six others 13 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard of 500 or more turbines.
We are not talking about what you can see—what the Kennedys and businessman William Koch yelled about for the threatened Nantucket Sound project—but rather then the bete noire that you cannot see. And for that matter what the wind industry is at great pains to not discuss.
You’ve got Google (I didn’t say you wanted it. I just said you had it)—go ahead and look at the wind industry cable laying engineering press about the hazards and certainty of cable failure and associated costs to find and repair. And the attendant financial impact of down time when electricity is not being delivered. The news is not good, none of it.
The necessary undersea electric cables that connect the swan like turbines to the shore are viewed by the wind industry itself as their Achilles Heel. While the cost of cable laying is estimated at only 10 to 15 percent, it has shown in its 15 year European and Asian experience (over 5,000 turbines planted in someone’s ocean with maybe 10,000 miles or more of cable laid on ocean floors) it has run up more than 80 percent of the insurance claims the wind industry has filed. In 2020 the numbers worldwide have not gotten much better.
The marine environment in the northwest Atlantic is considered the harshest of places on the planet to place any undersea cable—let alone the three thousand miles Avangrid and its gaming table player partners are set to do on the Vineyard Wind project alone.
It has already shown its ugly face in the functioning of the five turbines off Block Island. The cables to the island, and to the mainland, have become unburied from the sandy ocean bottom there and will require a complete reengineering with tunnels drilled 30 feet into ocean bottom and then laterally several thousand yards offshore in order for them to stay put.
This has placed an unexpected $80 million repair bill (just five turbines, mind you, and less that 18 miles of cable) on the rate payers. Orsted, which has bought the Rhode Island wind company, has publicly said “we do not discuss our financial matters.” National Grid, which owns the grid acknowledged it will absorb the $50 million repair bill.
As a side note the RI Public Utilities government panel had advised the deeper and more expensive installation should be used in the first place. Their advice was brushed aside. Now the cost of each turbine has upped $15 million. People get paid to think like this?
The tiny Block Island Times newspaper has made much of this reporting in detail the costs and the culprits. But it doesn’t seem of interest to the Narragansett Times in the shoreside town where the cables land. And dead silence when it arrives in Providence for the Providence Journal.
The repair will take two years, and a large swath of ocean is closed to commercial fishing—blues, sword, squid, lobster, clams, flounder, haddock. No fishing! And this mistake was entirely not of nature’s making. Wait until she wades in (no pun intended) off Martha’s Vineyard.
Which brings up the question, just what can she do? Before we answer, keep in mind that significant problems can and will arise BEFORE the cable even arrives on site for installation. Manufacturing and handling defects and damage will occur up front and not be discovered until after installation. When such occurs, Orsted will have to find the site of the fault, maybe somewhere along thousands of yards of ocean deep buried cable. Somewhere.
Want that job?
The ocean bottom south of Martha’s Vineyard is largely loose gravel, mud and small rocks. Some ledges in spots. There can be large shifts in the bottom contours where, with the cable laid and buried in, say 8 feet of this type of bottom, after a storm the sand waves can move through and leave 30 feet BELOW where that cable was put, now hanging in mid “air” like a telephone line under water. This can be a frequent occurrence. Imagine dealing with 2,000 miles of this ocean dynamic? Orsted is. Only they are not imagining. Trawl gear hauled along the bottom will catch on that now exposed cable and strum it like a banjo string. Twang! Snap!!
This op-ed has been edited to clarify that William Koch, rather than the Koch brothers, was involved in opposing previous wind development