Expert Crossed the Pond to Build America's First Offshore Wind Farm
Dutch marine construction veteran Chris van Beek leads team's industry-leading effort off Rhode Island.
Chris van Beek
ENR 10/17/16 p. 12
Dutch marine construction veteran leads Deepwater Wind team to build an industry-leading wind farm off the Rhode Island coast.
For Deepwater Wind, small was definitely better. The developer has carved a new niche for alternative energy in the U.S. with the successful completion last year of the five-turbine, 30-MW Block Island wind farm off the Rhode Island coast—the first such offshore project to begin commercial operation in American waters.
Leading the $300-million construction effort involving an array of contractors was company President Chris van Beek, a Dutch native who joined Deepwater Wind after a 25-year career in offshore oil-and-gas construction at Netherlands-based Heerema Marine Contractors.
With no ready supply chain in the U.S. to serve the project, van Beek says he “had to get creative,” leaning on connections from oil-and-gas work in Europe and Mexico. He says construction participants also overcame the “learning curve” of working in unpredictable ocean waters, says van Beek. He says the project, built over two years to accommodate coastal Rhode Island’s rough weather, was completed on budget and schedule, with no contractor claims.
The project had the support of most Block Islanders, who had high diesel oil-fueled power costs. The wind farm is set to produce 125,000 megawatt hours annually and cut per-kilowatt costs for islanders to 24¢ from 60¢.
Also brought on board were state officials anxious to spur a new industry and connect to the mainland grid the generated power via underwater cable installation.
“We had good relationships with authorities on Rhode Island and with the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers,” says van Beek. “We made an effort to work with them and listen.” He sees the project as a clear “template” for others. “We proved we can build without harm to the environment,” he adds.
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said in a statement, “I’m proud to be the only governor in America who can say we have steel in the water and blades spinning over the ocean."
“Chris is one of the true innovators of the offshore-wind industry. His expertise in offshore construction across the world is unmatched,” says Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, an attorney now negotiating new projects for the firm off the Long Island, N.Y., and Maryland coasts. “He’s an exceptional leader who motivates and inspires his team.”