Offshore wind backers push New London area as potential hub

In this June 2017 Day file photo, five turbines of the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm turn, generating electricity. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
In this June 2017 Day file photo, five turbines of the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm turn, generating electricity. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — Chris Bachant, of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, says installing the Block Island Wind Farm's five turbines created more than 180,000 hours of labor in the region.

With Connecticut recently opening the door to projects that could see at least 40 wind turbines installed in federal waters in the next couple of years, Bachant says it's an exciting time not only for renewable energy but for state and local jobs.

"I'm not a mathematician, but that's a hell of a lot of man-hours," Bachant told a group of regional players in labor, industry and environmental advocacy gathered for a discussion on offshore wind's potential Thursday evening in Groton. "If we don't capitalize on this, we have nobody to blame but ourselves."

Hosted by MDA-UAW Local 571, which represents almost 2,400 Electric Boat workers, the discussion comes as regulators and grid operators are highlighting advancements among wind, solar and other renewable sources of power. Wind projects proposed for connections to the regional grid exceeded natural gas proposals for the first time in 2017.

In January, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a request for proposals for offshore wind, fuel cell and anaerobic digestion projects.

Speakers from the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, Acadia Center and the Connecticut Port Authority all said offshore wind soon would play a larger role in New England's energy grid.

As the only port between Boston and Norfolk, Va., without height or width restrictions in its main channel, New London could be ideal for everything from receiving shipments of wind turbine parts to manufacturing components, according to state and local leaders.

"The phone has started ringing," said Evan Matthews, executive director of the Connecticut Port Authority. "There's a lot of interest in New London."

Matthews and John Humphries, of Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, said New London could prove to be a hub for offshore wind, potentially carving out a new manufacturing market locally and statewide, saving developers money they'd otherwise spend shipping massive turbine components overseas.

"The gold mine here would be that we get some supply chain manufacturing," Humphries said. "It's an exciting time."

Many described the local workforce as well prepared to take advantage of offshore wind opportunities, considering the strong supply of technicians and engineers and the industrial base here.

By state law, Connecticut can seek project proposals only for a maximum of 240 megawatts of offshore wind power. Humphries and Emily Lewis of the Acadia Center are pushing lawmakers to ramp up that maximum as soon as possible.

Lewis noted Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Maryland each are seeking proposals from private developers for offshore wind farms producing between 400 and 1,100 megawatts of power in the next few years.

In Europe, 10 countries have constructed 81 combined offshore wind farms — almost 3,600 turbines injecting 12,600 megawatts into the grid.

The Block Island Wind Farm is the first of its kind in the U.S., generating up to 30 megawatts and powering about 17,000 homes.

Lewis said Acadia Center and others pushed DEEP to accept upcoming bids that create jobs, boost local ports, revitalize depressed communities, include ocean management plans, minimize the impact on birds and fish and take advantage of a skilled labor force.

Fishing and seafood industry representatives, who have expressed concerns about previous offshore wind proposals in the Northeast, said they were eager to be involved in the discussion.

"We'd like to have a say," area fisherman Mike Theiler said. "We don't want to be the guys tied to the train tracks. We can be a real asset to this."

State Reps. Chris Soto, D-New London, and Christine Conley, D-Groton, and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, urged offshore wind advocates to make clear to lawmakers that the entire state could benefit from an increase in direct and indirect jobs.

"We lined up the delegation behind Millstone. I'm sure we can do it for these jobs," Conley said.

Humphries said he hopes Millstone Power Station's Units 2 and 3 will keep providing their combined 2,000-plus megawatts through their respective 2035 and 2045 licensing.

But he said a key question for Connecticut is: "How do we replace that power with renewables?"

Offshore wind, he said, could "provide jobs and an economic pipeline for communities that might be hit when Millstone closes."

DEEP spokesman Chris Collibee said he could not discuss proposals the agency may or may not have received since the process began. But he noted a conference for potential bidders on Feb. 20 went well, with private developers expressing interest.

"Wind and other renewables are a key element of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy," Collibee said, referencing DEEP's set of environmental goals and policy frameworks to improve efficiency, grow renewable and zero-carbon generation and boost grid reliability.

Private companies must submit their bids by April 2, and DEEP will select bidders by June.

b.kail@theday.com

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