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Lamont should justify tens of millions in utility subsidies

In the world of excessive government spending and corporate welfare, I'd say Gov. Ned Lamont has won the sweepstakes, maybe not just for Connecticut but for every state in the country.

Just last week, Lamont barely hesitated after a reporter popped a surprise question about the skyrocketing cost of the governor's State Pier remake during one of his COVID-19 briefings, which he otherwise seems to enjoy.

The question: Are you comfortable with the new price point of $200 million for the pier project?

Yes, the governor responded to the query about the latest surge of more than $40 million in the estimated cost of the project, calling the money a good investment.

In my mind he's largely investing in the hugely profitable wind farm projects of two rich utilities, one foreign, which are also eventually going to charge consumers above-market electric rates for the cost of building them, while taking a profit.

One outrage of this hose-the-consumer/taxpayer plan is that neither the utility nor the state will even tell us how much we will pay for this offshore-generated electricity, despite the fact that they already know the price and have committed Connecticut residents and businesses to paying it.

Why doesn't Lamont just brand the Capitol with a giant Eversource billboard and admit he's handed the state over to the utility and its shareholders?

First of all, even if the State Pier project and escalating subsidies were sensible, the delays and cost overruns, which Lamont agreed to have paid entirely by the state, have been staggering.

When the project was announced in 2019, it was going to cost $93 million, and construction was supposed to begin in January 2020. The public/private cost sharing was then close to being equal, with the utilities actually paying more.

The cost is now at $200 million, according to the governor, and maybe climbing, with the state absorbing all the overruns.

How is this not a giant boondoggle, even without factoring in all the corruption at the port authority, which created the deal.

The big lie about the need for the state to pay for this project is one the governor repeated in his answer to the surprise question at his pandemic briefing.

"It is necessary to get wind power going over the next 10 years," Lamont said.

No it's not. And the governor must know this.

The expensive rebuild of State Pier to suit the rich utilities has absolutely nothing to do with whether the state has access to the renewable energy of offshore wind. Plans to build big wind farms by these and other utilities do not depend in any way on whether Connecticut spends a big part of $200 million making the New London port wind utility friendly.

Indeed, there is nothing in the deals committing the state and the utilities to the offshore wind electricity purchases that require the state to spend so much money rebuilding the port of New London.

If Lamont chooses to walk away from the spending overruns for the pier project, which the deal gives him the right to do, the utilities will just have to go somewhere else to do the work. It's their problem.

And there will certainly be other places to go. Other states are preparing their ports for wind work, seemingly at lower prices than are projected for the New London project.

New Jersey appears to have made progress toward a commitment from the industry for some actual wind component manufacturing, which has eluded Connecticut.

Indeed, the number of estimated jobs for the assembly work planned for New London, some 400 with the rosiest projections, are hardly more than you would get with a new Walmart.

Gov. Lamont needs to explain why he's spending more than $120 million to create some 400 new jobs while at the same time eliminating many others, given the shutdown of existing businesses to make way for the project.

The idea that the pier will be improved for when wind assembly is finished is misguided because so much of the cost is related to the specific needs of the utilities. You could rebuild the port for traditional uses without removing a huge hill and filling in 7 acres of harbor.

Where are the studies explaining why the state should subsidize so much of the utilities' costs in building their profitable farms? Where is the analysis of justification?

This is an enormous amount of money that Lamont is shoving across the table to players who don't need it, at the same time he is trying to squeeze more taxes from an American Indian tribe that is a large employer and significant contributor to the state's budget.

And where are the legislators who should be asking why all this borrowed taxpayer money is being spent to subsidize rich utilities, one foreign, instead of being invested in Connecticut communities?

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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