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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    OPINION: Gov. Lamont takes another run at a wind strategy

    I made fun of Gov. Ned Lamont a few years back ― when his subsidy of State Pier renovations for the wind utilities was still less than $200 million ― noting that his administration still didn’t have a strategy for how to accommodate or develop the wind industry here.

    Indeed, a Freedom of Information request about the ill-fated pier project, then groaning under massive cost overruns and allegations of corruption, turned up some surprising emails from members of the Lamont administration.

    It turned out, the emails revealed, Lamont officials were still figuring out a wind plan in 2020, as they poured tens of millions of dollars of borrowed state money into the pier work sought by the wind utilities.

    By the time I read the emails, in late 2021, officials admitted still not having a plan.

    "We realize we have plenty more to do until we can make some suggestions on a path forward," Mikal Lewis, strategic management adviser to the governor, wrote Oct. 5, 2020, in a blast email to administration officials about the need for a wind strategy.

    "We are currently searching for experts that may be able to help, and have sent a few emails to personal connections. If you have contacts in the wind space that would be of assistance as we move forward please let us know."

    A sad cry for help.

    I didn’t feel any more confident about the governor’s planning for a wind future when the solution seemed to be the naming of a crony from the scandal-beset Connecticut Port Authority, Andrew Lavigne, a manager fined for unethically taking gifts from a company soliciting public business at the authority, to a new state job, “director of green energy development.”

    The state Department of Economic and Community Development refused to release any details of the job search, which didn’t seem to cast a very wide net to find qualified applicants from the green energy industry.

    Fast forward to late 2023, and the governor announces yet another new strategy, with plans to use money promised from the utilities as part of their state-brokered deal to sell electricity from their Revolution Wind project.

    Lamont’s new strategy, the Connecticut Wind Collaborative, a private nonprofit, was launched this year, with $577,500 in seed money from the utilities’ promised commitment to finance state economic development.

    I can’t fault the governor for finally launching a wind strategy, even though it comes as the wind industry is now sputtering here and in Europe, with bids coming for new electricity contracts that are expected to be much more expensive than the first rounds, some of which were canceled because of rising costs.

    Opposition to the wind farms here, their impacts on views from historic districts and impacts on marine life, is also coalescing, with lawsuits still unfolding.

    I’m not holding my breath that the foreign utilities are going to start a wind turbine manufacturing supply chain here instead of just assembling what was built overseas. I wouldn’t even bet on seeing more wind farms on the drawing boards, unless the political masters decide we are all going to have to pay a lot more for electricity.

    But I will salute the governor for at least trying, after all these years.

    I spoke this week with Paul Lavoie, the state’s chief manufacturing officer, who Lamont has put in charge of the collaborative, and he seems enthusiastic about bringing together a team of proponents who might help develop a manufacturing supply chain here.

    I hope I’m wrong to be pessimistic, and I wish them success.

    Lavoie told me the venture was set up as a nonprofit so as to solicit private  contributions from the industry. He said the organization would make its financials public and hold open meetings.

    The state Freedom of Information Commission, it seems to me, might eventually be asked to determine whether the collaborative might be subject to FOI laws, since it is using so much public money.

    The Day fought and won a case, for instance, to subject the private New London Development Corporation to abide by FOI laws, because it was using so much public money, eventually to clear a neighborhood by eminent domain.

    At least the money for this wind industry incubator, unlike the tens of millions Lamont spent on the pier work, is provided by the utilities, not borrowed on behalf of taxpayers.

    But a private venture does raise red flags for a state with such a troubled history of corruption when it has tried quasi public solutions to industrial development.

    The notion of quasi in Connecticut, freeing enterprise from the “constraints” of bureaucracy has tended, unfortunately, to lead to a slush fund mentality, jobs and contracts for friends and cronies, credit card free-for-alls and scandal.

    Let’s hope that’s not the final legacy for Lamont and his windy ambitions.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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