Connecticut’s offshore wind push could use some focus, consultant says
Groton ― Do investors interested in offshore wind opportunities in Connecticut know who to call?
Not necessarily, an industry consultant suggested Friday during a presentation sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. Billed as an “offshore wind update,” the session, moderated by state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, drew more than 150 people to the Mystic Marriott.
Tony Appleton, director of offshore wind for Burns & McDonnell, a global consulting engineering firm, told the audience Connecticut lacks an “offshore wind identity” despite the ongoing improvements at State Pier in New London, which is being turned into a staging and assembly site for offshore wind development projects.
The state is “slightly fragmented,” Appleton said, “with a lot of duplication taking place.” He said Connecticut needs a single point of contact for investors and others seeking information.
Appleton also suggested the state should do more to incentivize investment in offshore wind projects that surrounding Northeast states also are seeking to land. He said he advised an entity interested in taking advantage of incentives available in New York to instead consider Connecticut, where the entity could avoid inevitable entanglements with neighboring New Jersey.
“I said, ‘New York and New Jersey don’t like to work together,’” Appleton said. “‘Why not go to a neutral state, Connecticut?’”
But incentives in Connecticut are “relatively small,” he said, despite the offshore wind industry’s potential.
“We’re talking about factories that can serve a whole country,” he said. “Eventually, it could become a net exporter.”
Appleton also suggested Connecticut needs to further encourage its schools and colleges to develop curriculums to prepare students for jobs in the offshore wind industry.
Tony Sheridan, the commerce chamber’s president and chief executive officer, delivered a similar message in closing remarks, saying Connecticut needs to get “laser-focused” on the opportunities associated with offshore wind. He said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection should seek to procure greater investment in the industry.
Sheridan said some have suggested the state establish a separate agency to “capture the moment.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., appeared briefly at Friday’s session, voicing the Connecticut congressional delegation’s support for offshore wind and also revealing that Amtrak was about to announce it was ready to choose a contractor to build a new Connecticut River railroad bridge to improve its Northeast Corridor service.
“Whatever our differences on other issues, let’s focus on the opportunities offshore wind provides,” Blumenthal said.
State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, raised questions about the potential impact of offshore wind development on the environment, raising the specter of “a thousand or so” offshore turbines being connected to land by cables.
“What does that spider web look like on the ocean floor?” asked Formica, whose family owns the Flanders Fish Market restaurant in Niantic. “How will it affect fishing, oyster beds?”
Appleton said turbines could be linked to an offshore substation that would then be connected to shore by a single cable. He said some engineers are looking at setting up offshore grids. Cable locations, he said, are carefully thought out and cables are buried sufficiently deep to avoid affecting water temperatures and marine life.
Offshore wind developments in the North Sea, which provide power to European countries, have had a positive effect on fish stocks, Appleton said.
Nicole Verdi, a senior manager of government affairs and policy for Ørsted, the Danish company partnering on the State Pier improvement project with Eversource and the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority, said the federal government is aware of “transmission issues” associated with offshore wind and has thoroughly researched them in an effort to mitigate negative impacts.
“We want to make sure the fishing industry can thrive,” she said.
Ulysses Hammond, the port authority’s interim executive director, spoke about the status of the State Pier project, which he said was nearly 65% built and on target for completion in 2023. Three offshore projects, including Revolution Wind, which will supply electricity to Connecticut and Rhode Island, will be delivered from State Pier.
“If you haven’t visited the site, do so,” Hammond said, noting eight cranes are currently in place at the pier.
Advised Verdi: “Don’t go unannounced.”