New London, labor and environmental leaders tout offshore wind's potential

New London — More than 100 people packed a meeting room at St. James Episcopal Church on Tuesday night for a forum on offshore wind, an industry whose leaders are targeting New London as a potential hub.

City, labor and environmental leaders who led the forum were enthusiastic about the possibilities. Spurred by the federal government's leasing of waters along the East Coast, seven states have committed to build more than 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity in federal waters by 2030. Officials argue New London is a prime location for some manufacturing and shipping — a deepwater port, with no overhead obstructions, between Boston and New York City.

Deepwater Wind — the Block Island Wind Farm developer tapped to deliver electricity to Connecticut from a wind farm in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard by 2030 — pledged to invest $15 million to help revamp New London State Pier to facilitate offshore wind development. Denmark-based Orsted, which recently purchased Deepwater Wind, and New Bedford, Mass.-based Vineyard Wind also pitched projects to the state with promises of a regional economic boom through clean energy.

But how, when, and for how long offshore wind projects create local jobs and economic development remains to be seen. Questions also remain on pricing — with competitive cost and price data redacted in proposals to regulators — and overall impacts on the environment and electricity grid.

Felix Reyes, the city's director of development and planning, assured guests that officials were asking developers tough questions about what's best for the city and how to take advantage of a burgeoning industry.

"We've got a lot of housing opportunities, industry opportunities, and then there's the manufacturing aspect," said Reyes, arguing that the area around the Crystal Avenue properties and State Pier could "transform dramatically to be our manufacturing and industrial area of the city. I get excited when I hear manufacturing and things being built by hand."

Orsted, Reyes noted, placed a bid with the Connecticut Port Authority to manage State Pier. Reyes and Orsted officials say a successful bid could lead to local supply chains and manufacturing jobs.

Christopher Bachant, business agent and organizer for Carpenters Local 326, said New London could "be used for potentially all the offshore wind projects from Massachusetts to New Jersey. It doesn't mean everything is going to be built here. It could be for support."

Bachant said he couldn't make a hard estimate on local job potential, but he said development in the region would lead to local vendors supplying "tie wire, plywood, staging planks, hammers, nails, screws."

Bachant said wind developers have agreed to project labor agreements allowing for apprenticeship programs and job creation "for your grandkids and your kids. People who live here, they don't have to watch people who aren't from here come into the work."

Jamie Vaudrey, a University of Connecticut marine sciences professor, said for hundreds of years humans have been accessing carbon stored in the earth hundreds of millions of year ago as oil, gas and coal.

"We're creating a shortcut for the carbon cycle," she said. "We're not giving it a chance to leave the land through its normal pathway, which is volcanoes. Instead, we're digging down, bringing up those fossil fuels and we're burning them."

Emitting so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, she argued, creates "climate weirding," with more intense storms, record temperatures and increased rainfall.

"We need to make a change now, and offshore wind energy is a good option for building that renewable energy sector," said Vaudrey, who noted that offshore wind companies must conduct rigorous studies and site surveys to avoid impacting wildlife such as birds, marine mammals and benthic life on the ocean floor.  

For Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, the forum represented an opportunity for civil discourse.

Mathews pushed visitors to avoid thinking of humans as having dominion over the planet, "when in actuality it should be about relationality" and a deep respect for nature.

Matthew Morrissey, Deepwater Wind vice president, said in an interview the company was "extremely excited the community is getting together to discuss the impacts of offshore wind."

Morrissey said the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will soon begin its evaluation of and, "we hope, approval, of the contract we successfully negotiated with Eversource and United Illuminating."

Regulators say PURA should complete its process in the next few months.

Morrissey added that Deepwater Wind has "vessels out at sea that will be active through the turn of the year. The information that comes back will inform many aspects of the design of our project."

b.kail@theday.com

 

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