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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Local offshore wind coalition not among projects chosen for millions in federal funding

    President Joe Biden on Friday announced the 21 winners of the Economic Development Administration’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, but a set of eight projects centered on the port of New London was not one of them.

    The Offshore Wind Industry Cluster had been named one of 60 finalists, out of 529 applicants, in December. Headed by the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (seCTer), the OWIC is a coalition aimed at building infrastructure, workforce, supply chains, and research for the local offshore wind industry. It emphasized equity and outreach to historically disadvantaged communities.

    Each finalist received $500,000 to further develop its project for Phase 2, in which 20 to 30 coalitions would get between $25 million and $100 million each.

    “Obviously we were disappointed,” said seCTer Executive Director Paul Whitescarver on Tuesday, but he added that “even though we didn’t win Phase 2, we actually won a great deal more, because we developed a lot of contacts; we developed a coalition.”

    The EDA had said in December that the $500,000 would position those who don’t receive Phase 2 funding to find new partners and funding sources.

    “We’re going to move forward, because we’re still funded from our Phase I through December 2023,” Whitescarver said, and that funding includes a regional economic competitiveness officer.

    He said seCTer will meet with the coalition partners, and with EDA “to talk about other funding opportunities that may be available.”

    Whitescarver said the OWIC may be able to get help from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, and he said he feels “very positive momentum towards bringing offshore wind to the region.”

    He said the coalition asked for $43 million from the EDA, and with $20 million in matching funds from the state or private developers, the total investment for the eight projects would’ve been $63 million.

    The coalition involved in the eight projects are seCTer, University of Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Norwich Community Development Corporation and Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments.

    SeCTer facilitated an agreement with Rhode Island Commerce and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to form a partnership focused on workforce, supply chain and marketing. UConn is the lead for three projects: facility construction at UConn Avery Point, research and development, and a business incubator.

    The other projects are creating an offshore wind version of the successful Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative (EWIB), identifying gaps in the regional supply chain (CCAT), determining feasible sites for industrial development along the Thames River (SCCOG), and building a second business park in Norwich (NCDC).

    NCDC requested $17 million toward its $23 million project to create the Business Park North, a plan to purchase 384 acres ― mostly former farmland ― in Occum off I-395. The agency has a purchase option with the owners to buy the land for $3.55 million, and Norwich Public Utilities has contributed $575,00 and the city another $740,000 for engineering studies, designs and architectural planning.

    The park was promoted as a prime location to support off-shore wind manufacturers and support businesses. NCDC President Kevin Brown said the region is not giving up on the potential to capitalize on the budding offshore wind industry, and Norwich officials already are working on “Plan B” to launch the new business park.

    “It was stiff competition,” Brown said. “We were excited and proud to be a finalist in this process. But it does demonstrate this project has national significance.”

    Brown said the NCDC Executive Committee will meet Thursday to discuss alternative funding to purchase the future business park land.

    “It goes from hitting a home run and getting $17 million to where we were before: acquire the land, market the land, sell off pieces and develop it,” Brown said.

    According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the 21 winners of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge include projects that add solar energy to former coal land, support manufacturers transitioning to electric vehicles, establish a digital finance sector in Tribal communities, rebuild pharmaceutical supply chains to lower drug costs, and more. Each winner is getting between $25 million and $65 million, which comes from American Rescue Plan Act funds.

    Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.

    e.moser@theday.com

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