New London port faces dynamic decade

New London could well realize a transformative decade in the 2020s, with the events in the coming year setting the stage for the nature and degree of that transformation.

The city’s underutilized port should become a bustling industrial area servicing the explosive growth of green energy technology, a staging area for large wind farms developed offshore and feeding a hungry northeastern grid.

In a presentation at a Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut breakfast last week, Ryan Chaytors of Orsted, a Danish company that is one of the world’s largest offshore wind energy developers, provided a glimpse of how big the city, region and state should be thinking.

In October, Orsted announced it had acquired Rhode Island rival Deepwater Wind for $510 million. Deepwater developed the five turbine wind farm off Block Island and submitted a winning proposal to deliver 200 megawatts of electricity to Connecticut from a wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard.

Like Deepwater, Chaytors said Orsted sees the New London port as a major staging area for the offshore wind farms. But Orsted is thinking bigger. In tandem with Eversource, Orsted has submitted to Connecticut utility regulators plans to expand that wind farm, using larger and newer technology turbines to feed another 800 megawatts into the power grid.

It must compete with more than 100 submissions in the state’s zero-carbon electricity auction. The future of clean renewable energy, it appears, has arrived. Also competing in that auction for the first time is Millstone Power Station in Waterford, a policy change supported by this newspaper editorially.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will face the challenge of providing bid awards that support a new renewable energy future, while also preserving for now the operations of the Millstone nuclear station, the power of which is necessary to serve southern New England’s needs until clean energy sources reach a larger scale.

Also facing big decisions is the Connecticut Port Authority, created in 2016 to bring planning coherence for the development and better use of the state’s ports and its maritime community. Scott Bates of Stonington chairs the board of directors.

Bates said the authority’s primary focus is better utilization of State Pier in New London. In a recent meeting with the editorial board, Bates said it would take about a $100 million investment to make the New London port “a first-rate port facility,” an investment he said would likely come from a public-private partnership.

Most immediately, the port authority must select an entity to manage State Pier. Among the suitors is Gateway Terminal, which is collaborating with Orsted. The advantages of this arrangement in developing the New London port into a staging and manufacturing hub for offshore wind development are obvious. This is a project that could play out over two decades.

But the pitfalls are also apparent. New London needs a port that serves varied shipping interests. Chaytors told his chamber audience Gateway would support diverse operations. The port authority needs to document that commitment before making its choice of an operator for the port.

Meanwhile decisions must be made about the future of the adjacent Crystal Avenue property, where two recently abandoned public housing complexes sit vacant. Adding the seven useable acres of that property would expand the pier area to about 23 acres, improving its viability. New London Mayor Michael Passero said that early estimates placed demolition costs at $1.2 million. The actual cost is probably higher.

Passero, when meeting with the board, said he is committed to assuring New London prospers from the expansion of its port by way of host-town payments and state investments in his city. Orsted’s proposal to DEEP includes a $25 million fund to spur growth in the local economy and to support job training and environmental stewardship programs. Much of that compensation needs to center in New London and over a sustained period.

If things line up — expanded wind generation production, a plan to clean up the Crystal Avenue property, a dynamic port manager — New London and the larger region could see explosive growth in the coming decade. The question is whether they line up in the coming year.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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