Positive signs state is ready to seize offshore wind-energy opportunity
If a decade down the road an ever-expanding offshore wind industry is one of the major economic engines for Connecticut, with the New London port serving as its nexus, Tuesday’s extraordinary gathering of state and local leaders might be viewed as the point the talk turned serious.
The bipartisan panel of business, political and environmental leaders who attended the business breakfast, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut at the Holiday Inn in New London, delivered a collective message that the state is prepared to be a serious player in the competition to capitalize on this opportunity.
Over the next two decades offshore wind farms will be developed along the northeastern seaboard. After years of trailing its European allies, the United States is late to the wind energy game, but the timing now appears right. Offshore wind has grown exponentially over the past several years with about 4,150 turbines spinning worldwide.
Development off the U.S. shore will benefit from the technological advances resulting from what is now a mature industry in Europe. Turbines under design will tower 850 feet from ocean surface to blade tip, maximizing wind power to make costs competitive with other forms of energy. The predictable wind patterns off our shores, the construction opportunity provided by the Continental Shelf and the energy demands of the great Northeast megalopolis are attracting investors.
No one geographical area will have a monopoly on providing the manufacturing work and shoreline terminal staging areas necessary to feed wind farm development. But some states and communities will benefit more than others, which is why it is critical Connecticut best position itself.
While other surrounding states have set aggressive offshore wind energy targets — New York, 9,000 megawatts; New Jersey, 3,500 MW; Massachusetts, 2,400 MW; Virginia, 2,000 MW — Connecticut has taken a conservative but reasonable approach to offshore wind procurement.
In recent bidding, the state awarded Orsted and its development partner Eversource 300 MW, which it is combining with a 400 MW procurement from Rhode Island to develop the Revolution Wind project 40 miles off the Stonington shore. It is expected to be delivering electricity to the energy grid of both states by 2023, enough to supply 150,000 homes.
This is a major project, no doubt, with construction expected to create 1,400 direct and associated jobs, generating $147 million in economic impact and utilizing the New London port which, with its lack of overhead obstructions, prime location and deep waters, is well suited to the purpose.
What made Tuesday’s event significant were the strong signals sent that Connecticut leaders are prepared to take the steps necessary to help build a long-term industry around offshore wind energy development, with projects and economic growth that could dwarf Revolution Wind in scale.
“We just passed last week, unanimously, a concept that would provide for a request for proposals for 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind,” said state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, ranking member of the Energy and Technology Committee. “We need to be a player in the game.”
A conceptual committee vote is a long way from firm policy, but if such wind energy procurement was pursued over the next decade it would make the state competitive with its neighbors.
At the same event the words of David Kooris, acting commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, indicated Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont shares in the goal of demonstrating Connecticut is a “player.”
“The governor is passionate about it,” Kooris said. “And we’re working very closely with our colleagues at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and our bipartisan colleagues in the legislature to set some targets and to demonstrate to the marketplace where we’re headed in renewable energy generally and in offshore wind specifically.”
And on a day when the governor announced Connecticut needs to slow its rate of borrowing and be more discerning in what it borrows for, Kooris suggested that investing in the infrastructure necessary to support wind development could provide a big payoff.
“It presents a rare opportunity to leverage an industry’s growth with (state) investments in place that will have a lasting impact for that industry and for others for decades to come,” he said.
It will take a committed, sustained and coordinated effort for Connecticut to realize the potential of this emerging industry. On Tuesday in New London a fair wind began blowing in that direction.
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