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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Wind industry comes to New London

    Aerial view of wind turbine parts at State Pier in New London on Thursday, August 31, 2023. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
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    Blades for wind turbines Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at the Orsted construction site at State Pier in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Detail of the ends of the blades for wind turbines at the ongoing Orsted construction site Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at State Pier in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Aerial view of wind turbine parts at State Pier in New London on Thursday, August 31, 2023. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
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    A crew works to pour the last of the concrete for State Pier during ongoing Orsted construction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Tower sections for wind turbines at the ongoing Orsted construction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at State Pier in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Area where a crew is driving pilings during the ongoing Orsted construction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at State Pier in New London. Old pilings in the foreground are in place to protect the tie rods below that are securing the south wall. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Nacelles, which house the parts that convert the motion of turbine blades to electricity, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, at Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Nacelles, which house the parts that convert the motion of turbine blades to electricity, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, at Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Blades for wind turbines Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, at Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    On a hot and humid afternoon, a cement truck rolled along a dirt roadway on the perimeter of the newly expanded State Pier complex in New London, its destination one of the two heavy-lift platforms that eventually will be used to load wind turbine components onto barges.

    The activity at the pier on this late summer Wednesday is related to the remaining construction projects needed to complete the $309 million in upgrades to the 40-acre site. But the wind industry has moved in, dominating the grounds of the pier with massive wind turbine components being prepped for shipment to the waters 35 miles off the coast of Montauk Point in New York.

    While they were stationary on this day, the wind turbine components are destined to become part of Danish wind company Ørsted’s and Eversource’s South Fork Wind, a 12-turbine wind farm that is the first of three projects expected to be staged in New London.

    The project will generate renewable energy and power 70,000 homes on Long Island. It is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

    And while Eversource has announced an exit from its offshore wind investments, selling its stake in a 187,000-acre undeveloped lease area off Massachusetts to its partner Ørsted for $625 million and seeking a buyer for its 50% stake in three planned wind farms. Eversource said the utility is expected to realize a loss in the sell-off of between $220 million to $280 million.

    Ørsted has agreed to take over Eversource’s 50% share of the lease at State Pier in New London, along with the Port of Providence, the Port of Davisville and Quonset Point in Rhode Island.

    Aside from South Fork Wind, State Pier is expected to be the staging and pre-assembly grounds for two other offshore wind projects. Preliminary work is already underway on Revolution Wind, a 65-turbine wind farm that is supposed to be the first wind farm to provide wind power to Connecticut.

    Though the occupation of State Pier is a sign of continued progress, Ørsted’s continued commitment to its wind projects and the viability of Revolution Wind has been called into question as the company faces surging costs to build those projects.

    Ørsted Chief Executive Officer Mads Nipper, Bloomberg reported last week, said supply-chain glitches and soaring interest rates led to a 37% drop in Ørsted shares. The investor sell-off saw the company lose $8 billion in value last week.

    Revolution Wind is in the first phase of onshore construction and has components for the foundations of the wind turbines being assembled at the Port of Providence. Ørsted, in a statement to The Day last week, did not directly address the possibility of Revolution Wind being delayed or scrapped altogether but said “the U.S. offshore wind industry remains attractive.”

    Connecticut Port Authority Interim Director Ulysses Hammond expressed confidence in Ørsted’s commitment to the U.S. offshore wind market and State Pier. The port authority has in place a 10-year lease agreement with Ørsted and Eversource and a guaranteed $20 million. The city of New London has a host community agreement that guarantees at least $5.25 million over seven years with provisions to obtain more.

    Closeup view of State Pier

    Hammond led a tour of State Pier on Wednesday, providing an up-close view of the scale of the offshore wind components and the equipment used to move them.

    There are four nacelles at the pier, essentially gear boxes that are the size of small homes that contain the machinery to convert the motion of the turbine blades into electrical power.

    Twelve 320-foot long blades ― four complete sets ― are lined up on a 7-acre portion of the pier that used to be water but was filled in during construction of the pier to create a larger Central Wharf area. The blades, end to end, are twice as tall as the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

    The towers sections ― all 48 sections in New London are needed to complete 12 turbines ― which support the blades and nacelles and will rise hundreds of feet above the ocean atop foundations. The insides of the towers will need to be outfitted with electrical components before shipment.

    The components are moved around, loaded and offloaded from State Pier with cranes imported by wind turbine producer Siemens Gamesa. The largest of the two cranes is a 500-foot-tall Liebherr that can lift 350 tons.

    When they are ready for shipment, two tower sections will be connected and shipped to be assembled on site. The 11-megawatts wind turbines will stand nearly 800 feet tall once assembled.

    The components, partially assembled, will be moving out in the coming weeks on barges. Under the 1920 Jones Act, only ships built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens are permitted to carry cargo between points in the U.S. Hammond said training was conducted for marine pilots and tugboat operators specifically to be able to navigate local waters with the offshore wind components.

    The first U.S.-based wind turbine installation vessel, the Charybdis, is under construction in Texas and expected to arrive in New London in 2024 or 2025. The Charybdis is 472 feet long and 184 feet wide with a crane with a boom length of 426 feet. Hammond said the ship will be hard to miss from most places along the coast.

    Hammond said he expects work on the much-scrutinized State Pier construction project, of which the state is paying about two-thirds of the cost, to be completed by the end of the year.

    One of the major hurdles to completion of construction remains the south end of the pier, where workers continue to drive 42-inch piles and install the metal sheets that will buttress the entire end of the widened pier.

    Asked whether he thought the investment was worth it, Hammond said the underutilized port needed to be upgraded, and the work that has been done provides new opportunities for the region, even outside of the wind industry.

    Heavy-lift capacity port

    Aside from the lease, Hammond pointed toward the ongoing work, and said the investment in the aging and underutilized facility will remain a boon to the state – wind or no wind. While it was designed to accommodate the oversized wind turbine components, the facility will remain a heavy-lift capacity port, “something it never was.”

    What it means, he said, is that the pier can accommodate incoming cargo – things like cars or tractor equipment, steel or lumber along with traditional cargo containers. And while offshore wind is not presently making use of the freight rail on site, it remains an option for other cargo.

    “It’s about cargo capability,” Hammond said. “Whenever there is any down time from offshore wind activity, CPA and Gateway will be marketing this facility for heavy-lift cargoes from around the world. We have additional capacity we never had in the Northeast.”

    “This is a state asset that is not just here for offshore wind. Offshore wind has given us the ability to develop this,” Hammond said.

    g.smith@theday.com

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