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Officials: Four of five Block Island wind turbines out for repair

Power-generating windmills off Block Island. Repairs have shut

Power-generating windmills off Block Island. Repairs have shut down four of the five windmills this summer.   Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

General Electric has discovered "stress lines" in wind-power turbines operating off the coast of Block Island, necessitating shutdown of four of the five wind mills this summer.

In a statement, Danish wind-energy giant Orsted, which owns Block Island Wind Farm, described the efforts to fix the problem as "our ongoing routine summer maintenance." Summer is generally the time of highest demand for power on Block Island.

"Part of the work being conducted is the repair of stress lines identified by GE in the turbines," said Orsted spokesperson Meaghan Wims. "We put four turbines on pause as a precautionary measure and carried out a full risk assessment."

She said that assessment showed the turbines are "structurally sound," but the work will continue for "the next few weeks."

Block Island Wind Farm, developed by Deepwater Wind, was the nation’s first offshore wind farm. It consists of five turbines in state waters off the Block Island coast, producing about 30 megawatts of power for an island that had chiefly relied on diesel-powered generators. As part of the wind project, the island also gained a critical undersea cable to the mainland for power when the wind isn’t blowing.

A spokesperson for GE Renewable Energy did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Jeffrey Wright, president of Block Island Power, said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the repair, but the turbines being out of service "doesn’t really impact us." The island buys its power from the mainland using a National Grid power line built as part of the wind-turbine project.

That cable is due to go offline for several months, perhaps in the winter, when repairs begin to make sure it’s properly buried and not subject to occasional exposure, he said. When that happens, Block Island will rely on its old diesel generators for power.

Wright said the turbine-cable project has been a big benefit for the island, stabilizing prices that had risen as high as 76 cents a kilowatt-hour when fuel-oil costs spiked. Now, he said, prices are around 43 cents a kilowatt-hour this summer. Long Islanders pay around 20 cents a kilowatt-hour for LIPA power.

Savings from the wind and cable project have been so widespread, including insurance costs and fuel, Wright said, that he’s been able to invest in the distribution system, all without raising rates. The power company is also in the midst of a program to vastly expand solar on the island, which, because it’s locally produced, is considerably cheaper than off-island electric from the cable to the mainland. The goal is to make solar about 80% of the island’s off-peak winter load. He’s also interested in battery storage on the island, also to increase reliability and savings.

The main benefit, though, is that Block Island no longer burns a million gallons of diesel fuel each year, fuel that had to be imported by boat and powered dirty, noisy power plants, he said.

"It’s really changed the whole feel of the island," Wright said. "We no longer focus on keeping engines running."

Al Shaffer, a lobsterman from Montauk, said he first noticed the four turbines not spinning several weeks ago. Schaffer is very familiar with the unforgiving conditions in the waters between Montauk and Block Island, and said he wasn’t surprised to hear there were issues.

"These turbines are only a couple of miles off Block Island — the ones they’re planning are going to be 20 miles or so," he said. "What are they going to do if they break in the middle of winter? I think they’re going to be down for a long time."

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