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Offshore wind leadership is Connecticut's to lose

It has been nearly three years since Governor Lamont announced the signing of a public-private partnership to bring the wind power industry to Connecticut and, a month later, signed a law he said was designed to make Connecticut "the central hub of the offshore wind industry in New England."

Despite having a deepwater port uniquely suited to shipping assembled wind turbine components to sites off the East Coast and a manufacturing and technology capacity known worldwide, Connecticut is not yet poised to become a wind power hub in a $170 billion industry.

Rather, the state remains in the formulation stage, probably better versed in its own assets and weaknesses than before but unready to assume leadership in a new and critical industry. Good groundwork is being done, but the excitement is missing.

Time is passing as wind power developers face their own contractual deadlines and as Connecticut residents wonder what happened to the buzz about offshore wind — if they even remember that in pre-pandemic 2019 there was one.

At this point, Connecticut has not blown its opportunity. Two separate initiatives based in southeastern Connecticut have recently emerged. One, a set of six projects and five partners called the Offshore Wind Industry Cluster, is in competition for possible federal funding of $25 million to $100 million. SeCTer, the southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, is leading the effort with the help of a federal planning grant of $500,000 and staff assistance from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The cluster's focus, although ultimately statewide, comes from local leadership — UConn Avery Point, Norwich Community Development Corp., Eastern Connecticut Workforce Board and Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, plus the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. Their goal is a transformative economic development plan that can compete in a national challenge grant. There is plenty to be excited about there.

Also promising is a study commissioned by the partners in the Revolution Wind project, Ørsted and Eversource, and shepherded by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, "Embracing the Potential of Offshore Wind in Connecticut." Its authors, from the McAllister Marine Engineering firm, have experience in the international industry. Their report outlines the impressive strengths that mean prominence in the engineering, manufacturing and delivery of components is Connecticut's to lose. Foremost is the single most suitable deepwater port free of downstream obstacles, New London.

One group is working from local expertise and looking at the recommendations of the other, which derive from international experience. The essential third leg is for Connecticut government to assume a more vocal and visible presence. Not only do manufacturers, engineering and technical schools, business innovators and developers need to know where they fit into the state's plans, the public also needs a sense of the synergy of wind power with this compact, high-tech, coastal state.

It is hard to think of a category of components in which Connecticut could not contribute to the vessels, logistics, ports and harbors that are part of the second and third tiers of construction and assembly of the giant turbines. Think of the sophisticated expertise beyond the partners in the grant application cluster — including the U.S. Navy, Electric Boat, aircraft manufacturers and Millstone Power Plant owner Dominion, which is making its own major investment with construction of a newly designed turbine installation vessel.

Big business and big government are aboard. State Pier has its permits at last. But an industry that aims to be as comprehensive as this one also needs the small, medium, minority, and one-of-a-kind skills and companies. It needs the tech know-how tailored to custom, durable design in a harsh environment.

If successfully launched, Connecticut's wind power manufacturing industry will be a source of civic pride comparable to that of aeronautics and submarine design.

What is most worrisome about the state's preparation for offshore wind is not its hiccups, like the controversies around State Pier, but that it is so quiet that economic experts ignore it. In a December virtual economic forum held by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, some of the state's most-quoted economists painted a picture of Connecticut's economy as "lackluster."

The fact that no one at a statewide forum was talking about a whole new industry that could be revving up here by 2024, could re-tool the state's manufacturing presence, enhance its educational institutions and jobs market and contribute to cleaner air is baffling. Maybe it's Covid fatigue, or maybe the Lamont preference for working behind the scenes is putting a lid on the sort of buzz that generates support and keeps a project moving. In three years, progress has been made, and both the industry and the public need to see what Connecticut will do.

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, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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