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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Offshore wind partners move forward despite missing out on grant

    While the Offshore Wind Industry Cluster in Connecticut was not among 21 economic development projects the federal government picked to each receive between $25 million and $65 million, its partners vow to continue their work to shore up the burgeoning local offshore wind industry, though perhaps in a scaled-back form.

    Heading up a coalition, the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (seCTer) put forth a portfolio of projects totaling $59 million, asking for $39 million in the Economic Development Administration’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge to offset $20 million in matching funds.

    The largest portion would have been for the University of Connecticut: $26 million for research and development facilities, research and development activities, and a business incubator. The ask also included $23 million for Business Park North in Norwich, $7 million to create a workforce pipeline for offshore wind, $1.4 million for identifying supply chain gaps, and $671,000 for to assess sites for development.

    The cluster was named one of 60 finalists out of 529 applicants last December, and received $500,000, but learned earlier this month it was not selected for further funding.

    SeCTer Executive Director Paul Whitescarver said a group from the EDA will meet with Offshore Wind Industry Cluster partners in mid-October “to see what they can do to push these projects forward.” He completed a survey to tell the EDA what he thought the priorities are, which Whitescarver cited as workforce development, the business park, and identifying brownfield sites that need remediation. The request for the business park came from Norwich Community Development Corp.

    Another partner is the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which focuses on supply chain development for global industrial companies. President and CEO Ron Angelo said CCAT will continue to work on developing the supply chain database, and to seek state and federal funding sources.

    Angelo said CCAT applies the same principles whether talking about aerospace, defense or clean energy: The organization starts by looking at who is in the marketplace, assesses the capabilities of existing companies, and analyzes gaps.

    “All the capacity for supply chain right now doesn’t exist here. It’s over in Europe; it’s in China,” Whitescarver said in a Build Back Better Regional Challenge virtual showcase presentation on April 26. “So, our whole idea behind the cluster development is to bring it here to the United States and more specifically to our region.”

    He explained that the projects represent “the entire business cycle”: from research and development to business incubation to locating new businesses in the Norwich business park, with workforce and supply chain development. SeCTer has also facilitated a partnership with Rhode Island and Massachusetts focused on workforce, supply chain and marketing.

    R&D plans still in development at UConn

    Talking in January, between when the OWIC was selected as a finalist in the federal challenge and when it submitted a proposal for phase 2 funding, University of Connecticut’s Kylene Perras said if they didn’t receive the funding “we’ll be sad, we will be disappointed, but certainly we won’t stop; we’ll continue to explore what may be available.”

    Perras, assistant dean at the UConn School of Engineering, said this past week that UConn will continue to brainstorm how to move forward.

    She was heavily involved in discussions about bringing blue tech R&D centers to the Avery Point and Storrs campuses, something she said UConn has been working toward for some time. The director of the Eversource Energy Center and the marine sciences department were also involved in the Build Back Better proposal.

    Perras said last week she doesn’t have a timeline now for when an R&D center would come to fruition or know its size, but said the first step is getting feedback from the EDA, as Whitescarver referenced.

    Workforce board works on pipeline for wind jobs

    The Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board’s proposal was to transform the successful Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative for offshore wind. David Allard, senior manager of talent acquisition at EWIB, said the MPI ― a short-term training program with no cost to participants ― has resulted in more than 2,500 job placements since its inception in 2016 and ran 50 classes last year.

    “The fact that we have the Manufacturing Pipeline in the region really creates the infrastructure for us, and then it’s just a matter of working with the employer partners to determine what their needs are, and that’s the process we’re engaging in now,” Allard said Friday.

    He had a meeting this week with Revolution Wind, the Ørsted-Eversource venture to bring offshore wind power to Connecticut and Rhode Island, which includes the redevelopment of State Pier in New London.

    He said the application to the EDA included a commitment from Ørsted and Eversource to fund workforce development. But not getting the grant “changes how much we’re really able to do and how we’re able to do it,” and so discussions are on the most critical needs and priorities.

    Some MPI classes may be transferable to the offshore wind industry, such as welding.

    Council of governments assessing sites for development

    The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments’ proposal as part of the OWIC application focused on identifying sites for development up and down the Thames River.

    Executive Director Amanda Kennedy said the components include building a better GIS system, researching what kinds of properties would be most in demand for the offshore wind industry, and conducting brownfield assessments.

    The idea for a GIS upgrade is to allow people to search for parcels that are of a certain size and zoned for commercial, which Kennedy said would be useful because since different towns have different zoning categories, “It’s hard to say, ‘Show me all the commercial.’”

    An EDA grant would’ve provided enough finding to hire a consultant to figure this out, and Kennedy said she doesn’t know yet how difficult this will be.

    But she said SCCOG just got a new GIS coordinator two weeks ago, who can take on the work her predecessor was doing in reviewing alternatives to the current parcel viewer. Kennedy still thinks it would be great to get funding for a consultant to do some of this work.

    As for the other elements of the proposal, she said there are brownfield funds available through state and federal sources, but first they need to dig more into “what properties are going to be most in demand, so we can then seek funding for the brownfields.”

    Kennedy said all this work ― especially the GIS viewer ― would be beneficial not only to the offshore wind industry but also to other industries, because it’s about the “general capacity to support development of underutilized sites.”


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