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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Taking to the high seas for an up-close look at South Fork Wind

    The Aeolus, a wind turbine installation vessel or lift-boat, operating near one of the wind turbine supports, at the South Fork Wind Farm, located 35-miles off Montauk, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Tim Martin/Special To The Day)
    The American flag hangs from the back of the Rhode Island Fast Ferry Julia Leigh as it passes by the Aeolus, a wind turbine installation vessel or lift-boat, operating near one of the wind turbine supports at the South Fork Wind Farm, located 35-miles off Montauk, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Tim Martin/Special To The Day)
    The C-Fighter, front, an off shore supply vessel, works near the Substation portion of the South Fork Wind Farm, located 35-miles off Montauk, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Tim Martin/Special To The Day)
    The C-Fighter, left, an off shore supply vessel, works near the Substation portion of the South Fork Wind Farm, located 35-miles off Montauk, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Tim Martin/Special To The Day)
    Two of the Monopiles, part of the South Fork Wind Farm, located 35-miles off Montauk, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Tim Martin/Special To The Day)
    The Aeolus, a wind turbine installation vessel or lift-boat, operating near one of the wind turbine supports, at the South Fork Wind Farm, located 35-miles off Montauk, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Tim Martin/Special To The Day)

    At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, about two hours into a day-long, round-trip voyage celebrating the start of operations at the South Fork Wind project site, bundled-up passengers began milling around the open decks of the Julia Leigh, the high-speed ferry whose engines powered through the waters of Block Island Sound.

    Just over the horizon, the top of a spinning, 810-foot-tall, 11 megawatt-generating wind turbine that began sending electricity to the mainland power grid the day before could be spotted through the rolling waves.

    As the Greenport, N.Y.-based ferry drew closer to the site and Block Island receded to a smudge, details of the first commercial-scale wind farm in federal waters swam into view about 35 miles east of Montauk Point.

    As the ferry pulled closer to the working turbine, passengers unholstered phones and began shooting pictures and video of the relatively silent spinning blades.

    The rotors of a second completed turbine ― a total of 12 such Siemens Gamesa arrays putting out a combined 132 megawatts are expected to be in place and running by early next year ― stood motionless near an unfinished third turbine tower.

    The Aeolus, a lift-ship responsible for slotting the turbine components into circular yellow foundations, floated near the incomplete tower stem ready to add three football-field long turbine blades into place.

    The mood inside the warm confines of the ferry was similar to a maritime corporate retreat, complete with guest speakers and sugar cookies embossed with an image of a wind turbine reminding snackers the project was “powered” through a joint venture of the Danish company Ørsted and Eversource.

    A pair of television screens played a loop of South Fork Wind promotional videos that highlighted aspects of the work. One segment focused on the turbine component staging being carried out at State Pier in New London. A fourth package of parts left New London for the installation site this past week.

    The rotating turbines send power to a nearby floating substation, that in turn funnels electricity to an onshore station in the town of East Hampton, N.Y., connected to that state’s electric grid.

    When complete, the project is expected to power roughly 70,000 Long Island homes. The project dovetails with New York’s plan to transition to a carbon-free electricity system by 2040. The Empire State’s plan is to install 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035.

    “New York’s nation-leading efforts to generate reliable, renewable clean energy have reached a major milestone,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a Wednesday statement. “South Fork Wind will power thousands of homes, create good-paying union jobs and demonstrate to all the offshore wind is a viable resource New York can harness for generations to come.”

    Friendly crowd celebrates power project

    The 100 or so ferry guests largely consisted of unabashed project supporters, including New York state officials and representatives of labor, climate and environmental groups.

    “We’re coming to the completion of a project many years in the making,” Jennifer Garvey, the head of the New York market for Ørsted, told an applauding ferry crowd. “It’s been an adventure.”

    The wind farm industry has faced challenges this year, with Ørsted announcing the cancellation of its large offshore Ocean Wind I and II projects in New Jersey due to problems with supply chains, higher interest rates and a failure to obtain the amount of tax credits the company wanted.

    Developers in New England recently canceled power contracts for three other projects slated to deliver 3.2 gigawatts of wind power to Massachusetts and Connecticut, citing financial infeasibility.

    But there was no shortage of wind power cheerleaders on the Julia Leigh.

    Michael Hanson, a resident of the East Hampton, N.Y., hamlet of Wainscott, attended Thursday’s trip as a member of the “Win With Wind” group, a grassroots organization formed several years ago to support the South Fork project.

    Hanson said the group is comprised of concerned citizens anxious to find new ways to power their community without the use of fossil fuels. He said members spend the bulk of their time working to dispel “misconceptions” about the wind project through letter-writing campaigns, interviews with the news media and speaking at public forums.

    “It’s just incredulous to me that people don’t support this,” Hanson said. “(Wind power is) so simple and clean and reliable and it’s flowing right now.”

    Hanson, 57, said sections of the East Hampton area see their populations quadruple during the busy summer months, putting a strain on existing power systems.

    “The wind power will mean we won’t need another natural gas system put in,” he said.

    Win With Wind member David Posnett said climate change is his overarching reason for supporting the wind project.

    “It’s the number one problem facing the globe, whether you’re poor, rich, on the left or right,” he said. “And this is one little step in the right direction. It’s exciting to me that someone will turn on a switch in East Hampton this evening and a small percentage of that power will be coming from this turbine.”

    The project has faced sharp criticism from fishermen over inadequate compensation for lost fishing grounds and from some environmental organizations worried how such a project may affect marine life. Labor unions and business groups have come out firmly in favor of the work.

    Amber Hewitt, senior director of offshore wind energy for the National Wildlife Federation, said her group works closely with the project to ensure the installation work doesn’t harm the whales or dolphins that live in that part of the ocean.

    She said a 5,000-meter monitoring zone has been established around the work area that includes a 2,000-meter “shut-down” section.

    “If a marine mammal enters that shut-down zone, all work stops,” Hewitt said. “This project has received a lot of scrutiny, above and beyond similar projects. Offshore wind is a tried-and-true, 30-year industry, and we’re willing to support it conditionally until there’s a reason not to.”

    As the ferry made its return trip though choppy waters on Thursday, the offshore wind industry received another piece of good news, with the U.S. Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council approving construction of a $1.5 billion offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

    The Revolution Wind project, touted as six times as large as the South Fork Wind, is also a joint venture between Ørsted and Eversource, and is expected to bring a total of 704 megawatts of energy to Connecticut and Rhode Island.

    The Revolution Wind pre-installation work at New London’s State Pier will involve the assembly of 65 turbines that will be shipped to two offshore wind stations in federal waters 15 nautical miles southeast of Point Judith, R.I.

    In March, the Rhode Island utility rejected Ørsted's proposal to build Revolution Wind's second stage, 884-megawatt Revolution Wind 2, saying it would be too costly for consumers.

    j.penney@theday.com

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