Region's leaders pitch New London to offshore wind suppliers

New London — As developers compete to deliver offshore wind power to Connecticut and other states along the East Coast, state and local leaders are pitching offshore wind firms and suppliers with the consistent message that the city is open for business. 

At a gathering Monday night at the Garde Arts Center that brought together a mix of city, state, environmental and labor leaders with U.S. and European suppliers, the pitch seemed to be working.

"The industry is just on the tip of taking off. I'm sure Connecticut will be a part of this," said Lars Kristiansen, senior vice president of Bladt Industries, a Danish company that builds wind turbine foundations and wind farm substations. "Looking from my side, the prosperous outlook in the U.S. and on the East Coast is very positive."

Monday's session came a few days after the state Bonding Commission backed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's push to revitalize State Pier with a $15 million investment. Hosted by RENEW Northeast, Acadia Center and the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, the discussion was part of an offshore wind roadshow organized by the Trade Council of Denmark in North America and featuring about 15 companies across the supply chain.

"This is a unique opportunity to reinvest in the coastal communities in the Northeast," said Abby Watson, the head of government affairs for Spain-based Siemens Gamesa, the world's largest manufacturer of offshore wind turbines. "It's an industrial opportunity of a scale that hasn't come to New England in 100 years."

As a deepwater port with no overhead obstructions, New London could, with upgrades, accommodate some assembly of wind turbines, foundations and substations while providing space for staging the large components for delivery to wind farms, state and local officials say. No turbines are planned for off the southeastern Connecticut coastline. 

"We have great ports and connections to rail lines that can bring us through the state," said state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme. "We want to work with all the industries ... fishing, boating and transportation. This is a city that will attract millennials. It's a city that will keep its retirees, and real estate is improving and rising in value."

Watson emphasized that Connecticut's unique workforce, and Navy and Coast Guard connections, could only benefit the industry and its many moving parts, including turbines, foundations, towers, boats and operations and maintenance crews.

"It's not Siemens Gamesa's mission to serve the U.S. market from Europe," she said. "We see this market as becoming completely viable and large enough to support a fully localized supply chain. That will grow incrementally as the market grows."

State to pick offshore wind bid in June

The state this month plans to choose among three offshore wind developers seeking to bring power to Connecticut from wind farms in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard.

The state bidders include Bay State Wind, a joint-venture between Denmark-based Orsted and Eversource; Deepwater Wind, the Rhode-Island developer that built the Block Island Wind Farm; and New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind, owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and United Illuminating parent company Avangrid. 

The companies have not yet released data on pricing and potential impact on ratepayers, because their bids remain under review by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

After the session, state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said she had "infinite faith in technology," but cautioned that it was important for policymakers to protect ratepayers and "do things that make sense."

"It's all well and good to meet our energy and climate goals, but not if we make it unaffordable," Cheeseman said. "There has to be a sweet spot for residential and commercial ratepayers."

Watson echoed comments made last week by Deepwater Wind Vice President Matthew Morrissey, saying as offshore wind competition has ramped up, prices have plummeted. Over the last 10 years, pricing bids in European auctions have gone down 67 percent "as that industry has really taken off," Watson said.

"The more you get installed, the better at it you get, the more localized the supply chain you have, the more competition you have and all that drives down the cost," she said. "The exact same thing will happen in the U.S., and you're already seeing the competition here."

Both Deepwater Wind and Vineyard Wind — recently selected for Rhode Island and Massachusetts projects, respectively — cite New London as a potential hub for offshore wind development.

Deepwater Wind sweetened its pitch by saying it would invest at least $15 million in the Connecticut Port Authority for infrastructure upgrades.

Vineyard Wind proposes $10 million in grants split evenly between energy-storage projects through the Connecticut Green Bank and capital improvements by the Connecticut Port Authority.

Bay State Wind's proposal mentioned a redacted Connecticut port that would be ideal for an offshore wind hub.

b.kail@theday.com

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