NEW BEDFORD — A 100-foot-wide barge squeezed through the 150-foot-wide hurricane barrier opening on a hot and humid Wednesday, carrying three stacked blades, a nacelle, and two vertical towers — the parts for a single wind turbine.
They were the first turbine parts to leave the harbor and head to the Vineyard Wind site, which is on track to be the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, for installation. According to wind officials, electricity from some turbines is set to reach the Massachusetts grid as early as next month.
The transit from the terminal to the barrier gates took about one hour, slower than those of the heavy-lift carriers that have been bringing turbine components from Spain, France and Canada into port throughout the summer.
Dozens of employees from Vineyard Wind and DEME, a contractor with the project, gathered at the barrier gates, exchanging hand shakes and congratulations when the barge made it safely through.
One DEME employee quipped with his coworkers that they “only” have 61 trips to go (there are 61 more turbines to ship out).
The MassCEC Marine Commerce Terminal can hold parts for fewer than 20 full GE Haliade-X turbines out of the 62, Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller previously said. Since the first parts arrived in late May, the 30-acre terminal has filled up, with more parts due in on Thursday.
Under the Jones Act, passed in 1920, only U.S.-flagged and built ships are permitted to move cargo, such as turbine parts, from one point in the United States to another.
Turbines the height of 70-story skyscrapers will soon tower over East Coast fishing grounds. But government regulators with ties to offshore wind developers are downplaying the danger to the marine ecosystem and fishermen’s livelihoods.
As a result, unlike the shipping in of components from overseas that used foreign-flagged vessels, the shipping out of the turbines must utilize U.S.-flagged vessels. For this operation, Foss Maritime, a company building a wind terminal just north of the Marine Commerce Terminal, is providing two feeder barges, as well as tugs to assist with the transit.
On Wednesday, the transit inside the harbor was assisted by a third tug, the Jaguar — a New Bedford-based vessel.
The barge is equipped with “motion compensation” technology: a sensor measures the barge’s movement, and with a hydraulic piston can keep the turbine parts level as it travels about 30 miles offshore. Upon arriving at the lease site, it will meet the Sea Installer, a foreign-flagged, specialized jack-up installation vessel about 430 feet long and 150 feet wide.
The installation vessel, owned and operated by DEME, has four legs that stretch to the seabed to keep it fixed, and a crane that can lift more than 1,600 tons. The crane will remove the tower, then the nacelle, and then the three blades for installation atop the monopile.
The process from loading the barge in New Bedford to installation and sailing back to port with the empty barge is expected to take four to seven days, according to a DEME spokesperson.
“It may look easy, but the safe transportation of these components miles over the open water is no small feat,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Moeller in a statement. “While we’ve had many firsts, once this turbine is installed, it will stand as a proud symbol of [America’s] energy transition.”
Depending on ocean conditions and other factors, the first turbine for the Vineyard Wind project will be installed in the next few days.
Bill White, the president of DEME Offshore US, was at the barrier gates to watch the transit.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point, but my gosh … it’s almost an emotional moment,” said White, who formerly served as president of Avangrid Renewables (a partner in the Vineyard Wind project) and before that, the director of offshore wind at MassCEC while it built the terminal supporting the project today.
“It’s an example of what we can do as a country,” to address climate change, White said as the barge neared the barrier. “To see it here so vividly in New Bedford is a dream come true.”
His colleague, Jan Klaassen, a director at DEME Offshore US, called it a historic moment, commending the collaboration between the United States and other countries to get to this point.
Joel Whitman, president of Foss Offshore Wind, which is part of Foss Maritime, in a statement said years of development and partnerships with Vineyard Wind, GE and DEME made this possible: “GE’s next generation turbines are much larger than anything that has previously been installed. The delivery to the construction site is a turning point for the offshore wind industry.”
Per Vineyard Wind’s agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the barges will be limited to operating only when wind speeds are less than 15 knots and visibility is greater than one nautical mile. Transits will also be limited to daylight hours, but these parameters are subject to change as the operations continue.
Through computer simulations, pilots demonstrated they could successfully transit the barrier on a regular basis, according to a 2021 risk analysis report, obtained by The Light.
Port activity is expected to ramp up this month now that parts will not only be coming in, but going out.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at firstname.lastname@example.org