NEW LONDON – The first turbine assembled at the renovated State Pier embarked on a barge headed for the South Fork Wind construction site about 35 miles off the coast of Montauk on Tuesday night.
After striking against South Fork Wind’s part-owner Ørsted, local longshoremen returned to work last week to load a Crowley Marine Services barge with the first of twelve turbines that will make up the 130 MW wind farm – on track to be the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm generating power in the U.S.
The barge carried the 350-foot tower in two pieces to be stood up in the Atlantic Ocean, a 520-ton nacelle that houses the generator and connects the turbine blades to the tower, and three, 330-foot blades down the Thames River and out to the ocean.
“There’s been a lot of background noise,” New London Mayor Michael Passero said at the State Pier on Tuesday morning, with a fully loaded barge behind him and workers assembling a second tower on the pier.
“This project has just kept moving along and moving forward despite the hurdles it’s faced, despite the criticisms it’s faced,” Passero said. “I’m just proud to stand here with our partners, having gotten to this point despite the forces that were trying to hold us back.”
After years of delays and price escalations as the Connecticut Port Authority oversaw the $310 million redevelopment of the Admiral Harold Shear E. State Pier in New London into a heavy-lift port where turbines could be assembled for offshore wind projects off the Atlantic Coast – the massive turbines heading down and out the mouth of the Thames River provided the first visible step toward realizing the potential of the project announced by Gov. Ned Lamont in 2019.
State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, said naysayers of the State Pier redevelopment can now see the evidence that what they asked for – a project that will benefit New London and help move the offshore wind industry forward – was delivered.
“Did it come with more of an expense? Yeah. But when we started, people wanted to see New London benefit from this project,” Nolan said. “Now we’re going to benefit.”
Two tugboats from the oil industry in Alaska will pull the barge out for about 8 hours to meet the Dutch-flagged jack-up installation ship Aeolus off the coast of Long Island.
Siemens Gamesa workers are waiting on the Aeolus, and will unload the turbine from the barge to the installation ship, then get to work putting it together in the open ocean – a process Joe Nolan said will take about 60 hours, weather depending. When fully assembled, the turbines will stand about 5 times higher than the Gold Star Bridge.
The barge will make 12 trips out to South Fork to deliver the 12 turbines. Trade workers were assembling the parts for a second tower on Tuesday, using a crane to stack one segment on top of another, and fastening them with 160 bolts.
Eversource CEO Joe Nolan said there will be four or five turbines installed by the end of the year, and sending power to Long Island. All 12 turbines will be up next year, he said.
After the 12 turbines ship out, the pier will next be used for the 704 MW Revolution Wind – now the only project under contract to sell power to Connecticut after Avangrid was unsuccessful in renegotiating its bid for Park City Wind and canceled its contract.
The project will bring 65 turbines through State Pier, with 70-120 people working on the pier during that process, according to Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director Ulysses Hammond.
While South Fork put State Pier back to work after nearly three years of construction, its 12 turbines were meant to be a preview of a bustling pier where dozens of turbines each for Sunrise and Revolution Wind would be unloaded, assembled, and shipped back out to sea.
Ørsted said earlier this month that it hasn’t decided whether it will complete the 704 MW Revolution Wind. But at the pier, Joe Nolan said the companies decided Tuesday morning that they would go ahead with Revolution Wind – welcome news at the pier where the offshore wind partnership of Ørsted and Eversource has leased the pier for 10 years to stage offshore wind projects.
But the fate of the 924 MW Sunrise Wind – planned for State Pier after Revolution Wind – is in doubt after New York energy regulators rejected wind developers’ requests to raise the prices of their contracts with New York by billions of dollars.
The offshore wind industry has scrambled to adjust to inflation, high interest rates and supply chain issues that have caused the price of wind projects to rise since they signed contracts to sell power at set prices in 2017 and 2019.
Ørsted told Reuters the future of Sunrise Wind is “extremely challenged” after New York’s decision. Joe Nolan said it was disappointing, but said he was optimistic that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was taking leadership to find a way forward for those wind projects.
Nolan said there’s a lot of interest in keeping Sunrise alive, and Eversource was committed to building any onshore infrastructure needed. He said Eversource is also working with a potential buyer who is “very interested” in the utility’s stake in the wind partnership with Ørsted, including Sunrise Wind.
“Right now we’re going to focus on getting South Fork completed, kicking off Revolution Wind, and then we’ll work through some of the challenges that Sunrise might face,” Nolan said.