Officials with Vineyard Wind say that construction could begin within weeks onsite of the planned 62-turbine offshore wind farm.
CEO Klaus Moeller said in a press conference Monday that the construction is weather-dependent, so he didn’t want to give an exact date, but confirmed it would be within weeks, and not months.
The wind farm, which is planned for waters 15 miles south of the Vineyard, is still on track to start producing power by the end of the year, Moeller said.
The onshore operations, including three buildings planned for the Vineyard, are expected to be completed by the spring of next year. That includes a helicopter hangar at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, an operations and maintenance building in Vineyard Haven, and a facility to serve as a launching area for transportation boats, also in Vineyard Haven.
The hangar is expected to be done in the fall, with the operations buildings done the following spring. Work has been ongoing with pile-driving at the two Beach Road properties. The pile-driving, at least for the operations and maintenance facilities, is mostly done.
Moeller said that installation of underwater electric cables began in October, and is almost done; so is landside electrical infrastructure work in Barnstable.
State, local, and Vineyard Wind officials were on hand for the progress report given Monday at the planned ship transportation area on Beach Road. Cranes and other large construction vehicles were visible on the beach, as were piles that have started to go into the ground at the Beach Road facility.
In front of a crowd of about 30 local and state dignitaries, Moeller said that earlier that day he had seen a picture of the first monopole that will be installed at the wind farm, which he said will be the tallest turbines in the world.
“Guys, this is not something that is happening in the future, this is happening now,” Moeller said. “We are in a special place with this project. It’s starting to go really fast.”
Moeller said that they’ve had 300 union workers on the project; about 90 workers are expected to be working on the Vineyard during peak construction. Moeller said that about half of those 90 workers will be living on the Island full-time. They are looking to help arrange housing for some of them, while others already have housing.
Those workers include operations and maintenance technicians, who will be traveling daily to the site, and working 8-hour shifts. He said the trip to the site is less than two hours by boat. “You can still be home for a late dinner, maybe,” Moeller said.
Aside from onsite technicians, the facilities will employ people with a range of skill sets, such as site managers, planners, helicopter pilots, crew on transfer vessels, support staff, and health, safety, and environmental managers.
“In many ways, Martha’s Vineyard is playing a starring role in this first-in-the-nation project,” Moeller said. “It’s not only where our company gets its name, it’s also going to be our long-term home for O and M for 30 years, creating good-paying, year-round jobs for Islanders.”
Moeller and other speakers Monday thanked town officials in Tisbury and officials with Vineyard Power for putting in the work getting the local project through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and other permitting steps.
The Island’s representative at the State House, Dylan Fernandes, called it a “huge frigging deal” that construction would be going forward soon.
“This is 800 megawatts of power for roughly 400,000 homes,” Fernandes said. “But what happens when Massachusetts goes first, like with marriage equality, like with healthcare, all the other states in the nation look to us, and they follow us.”
He noted that gigawatts of wind projects are going into the early stages across the country. “That all started with the leadership of Martha’s Vineyard, the leadership of Vineyard Wind, Vineyard Power, the town, and our state legislature,” Fernandes said.
He also called it a big deal for jobs. He said that the project will include good-paying, year-round jobs for locals.
The recipient of one of those jobs, and present for the press conference on Monday, was Gabe Bellebuono, a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate, who has been hired as a turbine technician.
Bellebuono said that he didn’t know what he would be doing after school. He didn’t have the funds to go to college. He started taking classes at Bristol Community College that prepare students for the offshore wind industry. After that, the “job fell into his lap,” he said, and he encouraged others to jump into the trade. He has recently received training in Oklahoma and then Block Island, R.I.
Bellebuono’s actual job is to work at the top of the turbines. He says that he’s been training on turbines that are about 400 feet tall. The turbines going in for Vineyard Wind are about 150 meters, or 475 feet. From the base to the tip of the blade at its peak, it’s 850 feet, or almost three Statues of Liberty.
Bellebuono said that on cloudy days, he can’t see the ocean below. On clear days, he can see four different states. “It’s a surreal feeling,” he said.
Bellebuono says that he tries to keep a clear mind when at the top, and tries not to get nervous. He has experience with skydiving, which he said helped.
But he said that being able to grow up on the Island and then get a job that will allow him to live here was “amazing.”
“I’m honored to be a part of this. Renewable energy is going to lead the way, and I’m incredibly excited to help out any way I can,” Bellebuono said. “I never would have thought I’d be doing this, but it’s all worked out, and I don’t see myself doing anything else.”