Harnessing Offshore Wind // SEACOR

by Kathleen Rodrigue, features editor

Three Louisiana companies are using their expertise from the oil and gas industry to contribute to the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, supplying a cleaner source of energy.

This project is successfully producing clean energy to power Block Island, which is about 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Instead of diesel generators providing 5,000 homes with power, the island is being powered by renewable wind energy cutting residents’ electric bills by 50 percent, says Joe Orgeron, Falcon Global LLC’s special projects manager based out of Golden Meadow. Orgeron supplied Deepwater Wind, America’s leading offshore wind developer, with liftboats to help transport and install the wind turbines. This project, however, would have been near impossible without the help of Louisiana offshore industries.

“It’s our long history of engineering, building, and installing oil and gas structures that could lend to this new industry,” says Roy Francis, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Special Projects for Gulf Island Fabrication, Inc. based out of Houma. “Our experience with oil and gas helps with this new industry. We had the yard and capabilities to build it, where it doesn’t exist on the east coast.”

Keystone Engineering, based in Metairie, designed the five steel foundation structures that sit on the seafloor, while Gulf Island Fabrication built them, says Francis. He said the building process took place in Houma and took about eight months to complete. Afterward, the structures were transported 2,100 miles in 12 days to Rhode Island.
Francis said building the structure was not particularly difficult, because the company has built some of the largest structures in the ocean.

He believes this wind farm project opened the doors for them to become more involved in the new industry, thus creating more jobs for the Terrebonne and Lafourche regions.

“It’s been a great experience. We built it on time, on budget and safely. The customer was very happy with our work. It was a great relationship and it was exciting to be a part this new industry,” says Francis.

Gulf Island also built the lift barge Falcon Global used during the project. Named “The Robert,” the 335-foot boat was steered along the South Coasts and around Florida to get to the east coast.

Captain Farrel J. Charpentier, the captain of the boat’s expedition, said this was the longest journey he has had on a boat. Traveling about 2,000 miles, the trip took them 14 days and 14 nights, says Charpentier. He said he and his crew of 19 enjoyed the project because it was a much different landscape than the oil and gas industry.

Once there, the workers were tasked with a few different jobs. They first helped hammer the piles to secure the steel structures into the seafloor, says Charpentier. They also transported the wind turbine’s blades and one-third of it’s tower to the offshore site. Orgeron says each blade weighs 30 tons, the tower piece weighs 100 tons, and the structure holding the blades weighed 100 tons as well. The lift barge carried three blades at a time.

Their job also entailed sharing their expertise and knowledge about offshore with Rhode Island workers who were new to the industry. Orgeron says his men stepped in as their supervisors during shifts in order to ensure the job was done properly and safely.

Orgeron says he has been attending conferences and been involved in discussions about offshore wind farms since 2009, hoping to diversify the need for his vessels. He notes that though the process was sometimes discouraging, he is well pleased with the work he and his team were able to produce.

He explains that this 5-turbine wind farm is considered to be a demonstration project and has become the inspiration for more wind farms in the future. About 13 other wind farm projects like this are on the horizon for the east coast, Orgeron said.

“We definitely have the momentum on our side and being first in the market is awesome.”