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    Friday, December 01, 2023

    This is a wind warning state needs to heed

    When a wind-power industry expert tells a group of local businesspeople that Connecticut is “slightly fragmented” when it comes to helping the industry grow here, there is reason for concern.

    “Slightly” is often a qualifier used to soften a blow. The expert, Tony Appleton, tried to be nice. But he made his point. The fact is that Connecticut’s approach to the industry is quite fragmented.

    Appleton works for Burns & McDonnell, a global consulting engineering firm. He directs the firm’s offshore wind division. Engineering is part of a long construction chain that will feed into the planned development of massive wind farms off the Atlantic Seaboard, providing new business opportunities and creating jobs.

    This will be a highly competitive process with states up and down the Atlantic coast positioning themselves to attract investors and gain an economic advantage. But Appleton told his audience at the Oct. 28 Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut event that the state has not developed an “offshore wind identity” in this emerging marketplace.

    Connecticut has many groups and agencies involved in various aspects, but none have assumed the lead. There is the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and AdvanceCT. The last is a nonprofit organization, half funded by its business partners to grow Connecticut’s economy, half by the state to work with the DECD in doing so.

    All have a part in promoting Connecticut’s potential to be a big player in the wind-power industry, but none has made it a singular priority. Visit their websites and you must do a lot of drilling down to find pertinent information.

    Also playing a role to make sure Connecticut has the trained workforce for the jobs that will be created are the state’s community college and university systems, its trade schools, and, locally, the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, another nonprofit economic development organization.

    But no one, or any one agency, is pulling it all together. Instead, said Appleton, there is “a lot of duplication taking place.”

    Unclear to potential investors, to those trying to understand the business, and to prospective suppliers, is who they should call. Or perhaps they are listening to the states calling them.

    We agree with Appleton’s assessment. Connecticut needs a single point of contact for investors and others seeking information. It needs to clearly define who has the job of making sure Connecticut takes full advantage of this opportunity.

    In New York the job of “coordinating with industry experts, labor organizations, training programs, academic institutions, and other state agencies” has been given to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. In Rhode Island, which has the only U.S. offshore wind farm in operation off Block Island, the Rhode Island Commerce department is the clear point of contact.

    Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut state legislature need to take notice. Who has the job of making sure the state takes full advantage of this opportunity? What resources are necessary? Is it time to evaluate whether merging the Department of Energy and Department of Environmental Protection into a single agency was the right one? Perhaps Connecticut needs a single top-level position — a renewable energy industry czar — laser focused on the task.

    In New London the state is spending heavily — about $153 million in state funding, with $77 million in private investment — to transform the State Pier in New London into a heavy-lift capable port facility that can handle wind turbine generator staging and assembly for the offshore wind farms.

    On the other end of the state, the Bridgeport industrial waterfront is being developed to service foundation construction and steel fabrication for offshore wind development.

    Given these investments, it was troubling to hear an expert, asked to speak at an event at which the business community received an update on the industry’s progress, that Connecticut lacks an “offshore wind identity.”

    It is time to development that identity, and fast.

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