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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Wind industry hits a ‘pivot point’

    The Connecticut Offshore Wind Forum on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at the Holiday Inn in downtown New London included panelists, from left, Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut; Richard Hine, president of offshore energy for ThayerMahan; Paul Lavoie, Connecticut’s chief manufacturing officer; Tony Appleton, offshore wind director for Burns & McDonnell; Nicole Verdi, New England head of government affairs and policy for Orsted; Kelli-Marie Vallieres, chief workforce officer for the Office of Workforce Strategy; Richard Baldwin, senior scientist at McAllister Marine Engineering, and Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Evnironmental Protection. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    Kristin Urbach, new executive director of the CT Wind Collaborative. Photo submitted

    New London ― As work begins here later this month on the next wind-turbine project called Revolution Wind, the new clean-energy industry based at State Pier is transitioning from wobbly baby steps to confident strides, a panel of experts said Wednesday at the Holiday Inn.

    “I can’t say enough about southeastern Connecticut and where we’re headed,” Paul Whitescarver, executive director of the regional economic development agency SeCTer, said in greeting the panel assembled by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. “This is the pivot point for the region and offshore wind.”

    Panel members and partners, including Chamber President Tony Sheridan, state officials and industry leaders, praised the collaborative, regional approach taken in launching the offshore wind industry in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

    The approach was exemplified in the announcement made during the luncheon meeting that Kristin Urbach, former executive director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce in Rhode Island and a founder of the industry training program called WindWinRI, would become the first executive director of the CT Wind Collaborative based at SeCTer headquarters in Groton.

    “North Kingstown and New London share leading roles at the center of this new American industry,” according to a news release announcing Urbach’s appointment, which went into effect Monday. The release said the CT Wind Collaborative’s board of directors has now expanded to 15 members, including some with national credentials in the offshore wind industry.

    The collaborative’s announcement was made just weeks after New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, officially announced the completion of South Fork Wind off Long Island, the initial 12-turbine joint project of Ørsted and Eversource that will be followed by the 65-turbine Revolution Wind and the 84-turbine Sunrise Wind.

    All of the wind turbines are to be assembled at the deepwater Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier, where the State of Connecticut and the two companies invested more than $300 million to construct a massive flat area where gigantic wind components can be shipped and laid down.

    The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes told the 100 assembled guests that the new wind industry will be critical in meeting Connecticut’s goal to have a 100% zero-carbon electricity grid by 2040. To do this, she said, the state will have to maintain its nuclear-power generation capacity while adding at least another 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind power generation.

    “We’re onto the hard part,” Dykes said. “There are unforeseen issues that come up and challenges that have to be addressed as vision becomes reality.”

    Richard Baldwin, a senior scientist at McAllister Marine Engineering who helped devise the state’s plan for developing offshore wind, said one of those challenges is workforce development.

    And Kelli-Marie Vallieres, chief workforce officer for the state’s first-in-the-nation Office of Workforce Strategy, said she is working to ensure that programs at places like New London High School are aligned with industry needs while also seeking out diverse and underserved communities looking to develop new skills.

    The problem so far, she said, is there appear to be more people interested in training than the state has funding available.

    Another challenge, according to panelists assembled for the “Connecticut Offshore Wind Forum: Industry Perspectives,” is to encourage the creation of a wind-industry supply chain based in New England. Right now, most of the wind turbine components are manufactured in Europe, but as the local industry reaches a critical mass and proves its staying power, that could change, panelists suggested.

    “We look at this as a regional, national and global industry ... there’s no one state that’s going to be able to support this entire industry on its own,” said Paul Lavoie, the state’s chief manufacturing officer. “At some point it will be more viable to have a regional supply chain ... (and) we need to be ready to take advantage. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stand up a brand new industry.”

    With the state’s longtime expertise in technologies such as jet engines and nuclear submarines, he added, it wasn’t a stretch to expand into the offshore wind industry. The only thing needed, suggested Nicole Verdi, head of government affairs and policy in New England for the Danish firm Ørsted, is the assurance that there will be a continued market for wind components as other parts of the country implement offshore-energy solutions.

    Richard Hine, president of offshore energy for Groton’s 200-employee engineering firm ThayerMahan, added that his company, which specializes in providing acoustic solutions to avoid harming whales near wind turbines, recently opened an office in the Philippines to serve countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia.

    When it comes to global supply chain problems, he said, “Small companies can play a pretty big role.”

    Tony Appleton, offshore wind director for a division of Burns & McDonnell, added that the United States has the capacity to become the world’s biggest exporter of wind-industry components. He said during a question and answer session that the region’s wind-turbine maintenance hub will be located in Rhode Island, providing at least 30 years of jobs that will have to be filled locally.

    “The best lies ahead of us,” said Lavoie, the manufacturing expert. “The opportunity is huge.”

    l.howard@theday.com

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