R.I. developer announces agreements with French turbine maker for first East Coast project

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What could be America’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm will use turbines designed in France, with 15 turbine blades set for delivery as soon as this April, industry executives announced yesterday.

Rhode Island-based offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind said it had agreed to purchase five 6-megawatt offshore wind turbines from French manufacturer Alstom in December, qualifying it for the federal investment tax credit that expired at the end of 2013.

At a press event yesterday, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski called the agreement “a landmark day for offshore wind in the United States.”

“We are very confident that offshore wind will be a major component of the energy plan here in the Northeast for many decades to come,” Grybowski said.

Deepwater Wind would not disclose the contract’s terms, saying in a press release that it had made “an initial multimillion dollar payment” to Alstom in December.

“We made significant investment to ensure that we not only met the [investment tax credit] requirements but far exceeded them, so we have a comfortable margin of error,” Grybowski said.

The turbines will be installed at Deepwater Wind’s planned 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, located about 17 miles off Rhode Island’s coast. In addition to manufacturing the turbines, Alstom has agreed to take on service and maintenance responsibilities for the next 15 years once the wind farm is constructed.

‘Huge learning curve’ ahead

According to Grybowski, Deepwater aims to begin construction in 2015 and finish the project by 2016. Because offshore wind remains in a “nascent stage” in the United States, “there is going to be a huge learning curve, both from a technology perspective [and] a project execution perspective,” said Amy Ericson, president of Alstom North America, at yesterday’s press event.

“From a technology provider’s perspective, this is much like many other technologies that we’ve brought onto the market,” Ericson said. “It will go up the learning curve and down the cost curve.”

In light of the expiration of the ITC at the end of 2013, Grybowski is hopeful that the construction of the Block Island Wind Farm will “help tremendously with policy framework that we are living under.”

“I think it will make this industry real for the first time,” he added.

Grybowski said lessons learned at Block Island will be used in Deepwater Wind’s other, larger planned projects, including a 1,000-megawatt farm in federal waters also off the coast of Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind won the 257-square-mile area for $3.8 million in the Department of the Interior’s first offshore wind lease auction, held last July (Greenwire, Aug. 1, 2013)

Deepwater Wind had initially announced in 2011 it was going to purchase turbines from Siemens Energy. According to Meaghan Wims, a spokeswoman for Deepwater Wind, the initial announcement concerned a nonbinding “preferred supplier agreement,” which called for a contract to be signed by the end of 2012. However, the two companies did not reach an agreement by that time, Wims said.