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My Turbine Lies Over The Ocean: It Takes Herculean Labor To Build America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

Eric Crucerey and his team can move mountains. Well, maybe not mountains, but machines that dwarf the Statue of Liberty.

Crucerey, who works for GE Renewable Energy, is the project director in charge of delivering GE’s Haliade wind turbines for America’s first offshore wind farm that’s being built by Deepwater Wind near Block Island, Rhode Island. Over the next few weeks, he will ship five wind turbine nacelles from France to the U.S. across the Atlantic. Each of these 400-ton structures is as large as a school bus and houses the turbine’s power-generating components, including a massive permanent magnet generator. They will sit some 330 feet (100 meters) above the waves.

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A Haliade nacelle outside GE Renewable Energy’ new factory in Saint-Nazaire, France. Image credit: GE Renewables

Each of the nacelles will support three 240-foot-long blades (nearly 74 meters) that weigh 27 tons a piece, and Crucerey has brought them across the Atlantic, too. A cargo ship with all 15 blades on board docked in Providence, Rhode Island, last week. “My job is to be ready for everything, understand any weaknesses in Plan A and always have a Plan B,” Crucerey says. “’Never give up’ is my motto.”

Crucerey is speaking from experience. While working as a project manager a decade ago, he helplessly watched as a 20-ton turbine shaft worth $560,000 (€500,000) plunge into the murky waters of a Turkish port, never to be recovered.

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Top image and above: All 15 blades for the Block Island wind farm left Denmark aboard the Suomigracht ship. Image credit: LM Wind Power

That’s why today he works with specialists such as Eskil Røset, a project manager with Fred. Olsen Windcarrier—the Norwegian offshore wind developer that has handled massive projects in the U.K. as well as the Irish Sea and Scandinavia. The firm will ship the nacelles 3,300 miles from their birthplace in a brand-new GE Renewable Energy’s factory at the mouth of the Loire River in Saint-Nazaire, France, to the U.S. Røset will also oversee the turbine’s offshore installation in August.

Crucerey is also working with commercial director Dorte Kamper and the logistics experts at Danish firm LM Wind Power — the world’s largest independent supplier of rotor blades to the wind industry. Together, they coordinated the transportation of the massive blades from the Port of Esbjerg in Denmark to Providence. A third vessel, this one transporting the turbine’s sleek white towers, recently arrived in Providence from Aviles, Spain.

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The turbines’ massive towers arrived in Providence, Rhode Island, from Spain. Image credit: GE Renewables

But shipping is just one part of the Herculean transportation task. Getting the equipment to the ports presents its own set of challenges. The team in Saint-Nazaire loads the nacelles on specialized multi-wheel vehicles that carry extreme loads—as much as 530 tons. The blades, on the other hand, travel in specially manufactured trailers. Like a head of state, each blade travels with a police escort. Turns are especially challenging and the team must sometimes build its own roads to get around tight spots.

Chargement de la nacelle de l'Haliade 150 depuis l'usine de st Nazaire au Port pour chargement sur navire à destination du Danemark

A Haliade nacelle on its way to the Saint-Nazaire port. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy

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A 73.5-meter wind blade for the Block Island wind farm is zipping down a Danish highway. Image credit: LM Wind Power

Bryllup, Boltinggård, Thomas Kingo Kirke

Turns were especially challenging and the team had to build its own roads to negotiate tight spots. Image credit: LM Wind Power

Røset, the Fred. Olsen Windcarrier project manager, says the Block Island nacelles will traverse Atlantic waters that can produce seasonal waves of up to 6 meters. The voyage will take between two and three weeks depending on the weather and course adjustments to avoid any adverse conditions.

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Fred. Olsen Windcarrier’s Brave Tern vessel will rise above the waters near Block Island to assemble the wind farm. Image credit: Fred. Olsen Windcarrier

The nacelles will come to America aboard the 132-meter-long, 39-meter-wide Brave Tern installation vessel. The ship will chart a southerly route, leaving France in mid-July. The nacelles will ride on specially manufactured platforms so that if huge waves pound the ship, they will pass underneath the nacelles rather than hitting them directly, lessening the chance that any of the gears inside the casing will be damaged.

Upon arrival in the U.S., the Brave Tern will become a real-life Transformer robot, changing from a ship into an at-sea construction platform (see image above). Four massive legs will drop down to the seabed, jacking up the ship high over the water.

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The sun is rising ove America’s firts offshore wind farm. Deepwater Wind installed the bases for all five wind turbines last fall. Image credit: Deepwater Wind

Then, an 800-ton crane will position the generating equipment on the towers and fasten the blades onto the structure over several intense weeks of installation. Roughly 40 additional workers will join the 30-person crew to help with the project, living on board in the Brave Tern’s 56 cabins. A specially built Crew Transfer Vessel “Atlantic Pioneer”—a first of its kind in the U.S. that was developed by Atlantic Wind Transfers, a local Rhode Island company—will shuttle crew and supplies between the Brave Tern and the mainland. “With the Block Island Wind Farm, we’re pairing European offshore wind experience with U.S. offshore construction expertise to create a uniquely American model for launching a new offshore energy industry in the U.S.,” says Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind.

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Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski speaking in Providence at his company’s wind turbine assembly facility in March, 2016. Image credit: Deepwater Wind

Assuming all goes according to plan and the weather cooperates, the crew will assemble the five GE turbines at sea in the late summer and fall so that the project can be in service by the end of the year. When complete, each turbine will tower 560 feet above the sea, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. The finished project will generate 125,000 megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to meet 90 percent of Block Island’s power needs and even supply electricity to the mainland via an undersea cable.

Says Crucerey: “The entire team is so excited about helping America’s first offshore wind farm become real. We can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Wind Offshore Project - 2010 - Belwind Wind Farm - Belgium - Haliade 50-6MV - For BELWIND (HALIADE)

This Haliade is working at the Belwind Wind Farm near Ostend, Belgium. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy

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