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Connecticut, Rhode Island Vie For Roles In Emerging Offshore Wind Industry

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
The nation's first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island in October 2016.

When Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation last June authorizing up to 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind development, the new law signaled big ambitions.

“Connecticut should be the central hub of the offshore wind industry in New England,” Lamont proclaimed at the time. 

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo made a similar statement about two weeks later when a major British wind turbine maintenance company announced it would set up its U.S. headquarters there.

“As this industry continues to grow,” Raimondo said, “we will keep working to ensure Rhode Island remains the economic epicenter of offshore wind in the United States.”

The dueling declarations about each state’s rightful place as the center of all things offshore wind show how competition is heating up for the thousands of jobs that will support the industry. While each state hopes to be the leader, experts say the economic opportunity around offshore wind in the Northeast is big enough that both should be able to succeed in the industry.

“Absolutely it’s a race, which is a good thing,” said John Humphries, executive director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, which advocates for economic and environmental justice. “That means everybody’s jumping in. The faster we build out the industry, the faster the domestic supply chain will ramp up and the cost of the energy will come down.”

A March 2019 report from the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind projected the industry will generate 18.6 gigawatts of power in seven Atlantic Seaboard states by 2030, presenting a $70 billion revenue opportunity for businesses in the industry’s supply chain.

New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have the Northeast’s largest offshore wind procurements to date, but Connecticut and Rhode Island hope to capitalize on existing deepwater ports and strategic locations between New York City and Boston to secure significant shares of the supply chain. This could include goods and services for turbines, towers, foundations, cables, substations, marine support, and project management.

Since the country’s first offshore wind farm began operating off Block Island, Rhode Island, in 2016, awareness of “the promise of offshore wind has rapidly accelerated” on the East Coast, thanks to a sharp drop in the cost of producing the power, increasing alarm about climate change, and the need to replace power from aging plants being taken offline, said Liz Burdock, the chief executive and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

The federal government sent jitters through the region last month when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it was indefinitely delaying approval, pending further review, for Vineyard Wind, an 800-megawatt development off of Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts. That project was scheduled to break ground by the end of the year. However, Jeremy McDiarmid, vice president of policy and government affairs for the Northeast Clean Energy Council, noted that high-level political leaders have been quick to get involved, demonstrating support for “moving the project forward in spite of delays.”

Rhode Island has committed to 400 MW from the proposed Revolution Wind farm being jointly developed by Danish wind giant Ørsted, which has offices in Boston and Providence, and Eversource, a regional electricity and natural gas utility. That project, to be located about halfway between Montauk, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard, is scheduled to start construction in 2020.

The Rhode Island Commerce Corp., a quasi-public economic development agency, has been aggressively courting companies, like the British turbine maintenance company GEV Wind Power, that support the industry. Last month, the agency announced that a second British wind maintenance firm, Boston Energy, will also be setting up shop in Rhode Island.

Chris Kearns, an interdepartmental project manager in the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, said he believes Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts “all share the goal of growing the industry collectively. Each state will play a different role. There will be plenty of jobs associated with these projects.”

In Connecticut, state Sen. Paul Formica, who sits on the Energy and Technology Committee, predicts that different segments of the industry will develop across the region over time, as projects gradually win the necessary approvals and begin construction. In the earliest phase, selecting a deepwater port suitable for staging operations will be critical, and Connecticut is banking on that piece of the pie, he said.

“The State Pier in New London is a significant leader in that regard because there are no overhead or hurricane obstructions, and a freight line is attached to the pier,” Formica said.

In May, the Lamont administration announced a $93 million public-private partnership between the Connecticut Port Authority, the New London port operator, and Ørsted-Eversource to upgrade the pier to meet the requirements of the wind industry. That agreement has yet to be finalized, however, as the port authority has since become embroiled in controversy over questionable spending and management practices.

In an emailed joint statement, Ørsted and Eversource called the New London pier “critical infrastructure that will be transformed into a world-class heavy-lift port facility capable of supporting the industry and other future heavy-lift activities.” The companies also noted that they intend to use ports in both Connecticut and Rhode Island “for different construction scopes.”

Connecticut has selected 304 MW from the companies’ Revolution Wind project. And last month, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a request for proposals for the new offshore wind power authorized by lawmakers earlier this year.

“The biggest question now is, what happens with the RFP?” Humphries said. “It’s up to 2,000 megawatts, but they don’t have to acquire it all. If the state just does another few hundred megawatts, we’re not going to make progress. If they do more like 800 or 900, that will send a clear signal to the industry that Connecticut wants to play ball.”

Bids are due Sept. 30.

Trade unions have been eyeing manufacturing opportunities. Connecticut State Rep. David Michel, an avid environmentalist, said labor representatives approached him during the last session to discuss a wind turbine base manufactured out of concrete that can be quietly put in place, rather than with pile driving, thereby minimizing potentially harmful sound disturbances on the ocean floor. The unions are hoping such bases could be made locally.

Michel and some other environmentalists are worried that the competitive nature of the early phases of getting the industry off the ground might cause state officials to overlook environmental concerns. He had pushed for a noise threshold limit for the projects, but the request for proposals instead requires bidders to submit a plan for sound mitigation.

Amanda Schoen, the deputy director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said her organization was disappointed that the request for proposals does not mandate that developers establish a mitigation fund for what she believes will inevitably be some type of disruption to wildlife.

“Everybody is kind of looking around at other states and saying, if we don’t do it somebody else will,” Schoen said. “We are trying to be a tempering voice. We have the opportunity not to just do this first, but to do it right.”

The Energy News Network is published by Fresh Energy, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for clean energy policy. The Energy News Network is an editorially independent news and information site, and its contents should not be considered to reflect policy positions of Fresh Energy its donors.


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