State House bets big on offshore wind

Hartford — The state House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed a measure to bring up to 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power to Connecticut, one of several East Coast states banking on future offshore wind farms to boost renewable energy production while cutting carbon emissions.

The 134-10 vote on House Bill 7156 comes fresh off Gov. Ned Lamont's May 2 visit to New London, where he announced a long-term private-public investment of $93 million between the state, Connecticut Port Authority, pier operator Gateway and developer Bay State Wind to overhaul New London State Pier into an offshore wind hub with improved infrastructure and heavy-lift capability. New London officials are negotiating a host community agreement that could provide between $250,000 and $750,000 annually to the city over a decadelong lease with Bay State Wind.

"Our administration is working hard to put Connecticut in a place to become the center hub of the offshore wind industry in New England, and this legislation moves us one step closer to making that a reality," Lamont said in a news release. "Our valuable shoreline has the potential to provide multiple benefits to Connecticut residents ... We can increase the regional grid's fuel security and make significant progress toward meeting our climate goals, all while driving economic growth and creating good jobs."

If House Bill 7156 finds success in the state Senate and on Lamont's desk, Connecticut will join New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia in announcing targets of between 2,000 and 9,000 megawatts in offshore wind power in the coming years. By comparison, Millstone Power Station's two nuclear units generate about 2,100 megawatts combined. And while Millstone's continued operation for another decade was secured through a recent deal between utilities and Dominion Energy, lawmakers and renewable energy advocates have pushed offshore wind as an eventual replacement source of power.

"We have restrictions on natural gas due to pipeline building problems, restrictions on hydropower because of transmission line access, but on our doorstep we've attracted interest from Europe and folks who've done (offshore wind) long before we have," said state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme.

Connecticut already is slated to receive 300 megawatts of electricity by 2023 from the Revolution Wind project south of Martha's Vineyard, in development by Bay State Wind, a joint venture between offshore wind giant Orsted and Eversource Investment LLC, an unregulated Eversource subsidiary. State-regulated utilities Eversource and United Illuminating will buy the electricity and deliver it to consumers, but the proposed rate for ratepayers remains undisclosed while the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority reviews the proposal. Revolution Wind also will deliver 400 megawatts to Rhode Island.

With increased scale and competition as states go green, offshore wind prices have fallen significantly since the U.S.'s first offshore wind project, the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, which was built by Deepwater Wind. Orsted purchased Deepwater Wind, the initial Revolution Wind project developer, for $500 million last fall.

In a statement, Bay State Wind said lawmakers had moved Connecticut in the right direction.

"With this new industry comes significant opportunity for job creation, local investment in southeastern Connecticut, and statewide economic benefits," the developer said. "Offshore wind also supports the transition from older, dirtier fuel sources to clean, affordable, carbon-free energy."

The legislation ensures that DEEP begins the process to seek proposals from offshore wind developers just two weeks after the law's passage. It also requires DEEP to establish a schedule for future procurements of offshore wind, up to 2,000 megawatts by 2030. The law calls for contract commitments from developers that pay the prevailing wage and the creation of a new commission to help minimize impacts to the environment and commercial fishing during construction and operation.

John Humphries, lead organizer for the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, praised lawmakers for working "together to make this aggressive long-term commitment to offshore wind with the strongest labor and environmental protections of any state in the region."

While state and local leaders have touted New London's potential as an offshore wind hub, Vineyard Wind, the developer picked to deliver offshore wind power to Massachusetts, has set its eyes on Bridgeport. 

Vineyard Wind applauded the House on Tuesday and said if the state eventually selects it to supply wind power, the company "will invest millions of dollars in the revitalization of Bridgeport Harbor and its conversion into a modern, state-of-the-art shipping channel, so that the harbor can be used as a staging area for the ongoing construction" of its planned 800-megawatt wind farm, also off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.

b.kail@theday.com

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