Public needs confidence in wind power negotiations

The moment of truth arrived Monday for the Connecticut Port Authority, the Lamont administration and the city of New London. The state received three bids in response to its request for proposals for purchase of an additional 2,000 megawatts of wind-generated power.

One proposal, Constitution Wind, continues to focus on New London. Park City Wind, a proposal from Vineyard Wind, concentrates on Bridgeport. The third, Mayflower Wind, would have less of a Connecticut footprint. The math now equals two ports + three proposals + various combinations of 400-, 800-, 1,000-, 1,200- and 2,000-megawatt options. The state and its port authority have significant choices before them, all the while keeping an eye on jockeying interests in nearby states.

Competition among providers is a good omen for Connecticut as the state attempts to attract the manufacture and staging of offshore wind turbines as well as purchasing wind power. However, there is still time to pause and consider whom the state has doing its bargaining, and how effectively they will negotiate toward Connecticut's goals of increasing its reliance on renewable sources and becoming a significant wind power manufacturing state.

Toward that end, The Day supports the call of state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, for the legislature's Transportation Committee to hold a second hearing on the Connecticut Port Authority. The public needs to hear current and former principals answer questions under oath about the practices that damaged the authority's credibility and resulted in resignations and terminations.

People need the confidence that negotiators will get the state the best possible deal. Locally, the residents and taxpayers of New London need assurance that the city will get its due in all arrangements involving the property tax-exempt State Pier.

Former Gov. Dan Malloy's creation of the Connecticut Port Authority made sense. The state was underusing and underselling its three ports, New London, New Haven and Bridgeport. The three were in the hands of the Department of Transportation, which was focused on highways, bridges, secondary roads, a little bit on commuter rail, and the ports — apparently in about that order.

Malloy had in mind growing the state's imports and exports, as much a marketing task as a management one. The new port authority was to develop capacity and then pitch its case to manufacturers and shippers of goods.

The governor directed that the new quasi-public agency be modeled on the structure of the state's airport authority, which has a major focus, Bradley International, and multiple smaller ones, such as Groton-New London Airport. The port authority got jurisdiction over the state's many small harbors as well as the three larger ports, functioning with an executive director overseen by a board. 

Meanwhile, Congressman Joe Courtney, looking for economic stimuli for the northerly reaches of the Second District, obtained $8 million in federal TIGER funds for a $12.8 million rehabilitation of existing freight rail beds from State Pier in New London up through Norwich, Willimantic and the former mill towns beyond. That jibed with Malloy's aims.

So that was the set-up: an appropriately structured, entrepreneurial body that would attract and facilitate business on behalf of the state. But after several years of missing cues about its mission — inappropriate spending, lack of transparency, that "quasi-public" doesn't mean private, and that partnerships are supposed to benefit all parties — the port authority seemed like a poor delegate to send to the negotiating table on behalf of the public interest.

Gov. Lamont began the repair process by ordering a review, an audit, and the resignation of the chair, whom he replaced with David Kooris, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic Community Development. Neither of them has seen fit to carry out the state's obligations under the Freedom of Information statute; lack of transparency continues. That leaves the public unable to weigh such issues as whether State Pier really could not accommodate other traffic while wind turbine assembly is going on. Kooris may be doing a good job for the state as chairman, but is DECD available to advise New London, as the state often does for cities in development matters? Is the costly new rail access a dead deal? Perhaps the legislative branch can help get the facts out with a hearing, if the executive branch will not.

It is great news that at least two offshore wind companies want a presence in the state. Two cities may directly benefit. Let the negotiations begin. But don't hide behind claims of a need for secrecy. We have seen what that did to the Connecticut Port Authority.

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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