Oil Services Find Hope in Giant Windmills Anchored to Ocean Bed

bloomberg-resize-01Bloomberg | September 21, 2016 | Joe Ryan

Gulf Island Fabrication Inc. has for decades built hulking platforms to extract oil and natural gas from the seabed. With the collapse of offshore drilling, the company has turned to helping harvest another energy resource: wind.

Gulf Island built all five turbine foundations for the first U.S. offshore wind farm, which is expected to go into service in November. Oil and gas services companies worked on almost every facet of Deepwater Wind LLC’s 30-megawatt project in Rhode Island, supplying engineers, deckhands, construction vessels and decades of expertise building massive structures at sea.

The 600-foot (183-meter) turbines represent a milestone for clean energy and an opportunity for fossil fuel companies. With more U.S. offshore wind farms in the works, Gulf Island and its peers say the nascent industry offers a new source of revenue to weather the volatile oil market. Cheap crude has long been seen as a barrier to renewable energy. Now those low prices are helping the wind industry grow.

 “We see offshore wind as part of our future going forward,” said Roy P. Francis, senior vice president of business development at Houston-based Gulf Island, which has fabricated components for hundreds of oil rigs. “We chased this job for seven years.”

And there will be additional jobs to chase that could provide income for engineers and builders. With construction of the Block Island project completed in August, Deepwater’s next goal is a 90-megawatt wind farm off the eastern tip of Long Island that will power more than 50,000 homes. It’s one of two federally designated areas off New York for wind energy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has said offshore turbines are a critical part of his goal of getting 50 percent of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030.

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