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Close reins on authority would benefit wind-power plans

A challenge ahead will be making sure the controversies surrounding the Connecticut Port Authority do not interfere with realizing the potential for State Pier in New London to become a major staging hub for wind turbine generator pre-assembly.

A major obstacle was removed last week with the announcement that the administration of New London Mayor Michael Passero had signed a host community agreement with North East Offshore. NEO is a partnership of the New England energy company Eversource and Ørsted, the multinational power company based in Denmark and a major player in the global wind industry.

The New London port is set to serve as the staging area for:

• South Fork Wind farm, planned for 35 miles east of Montauk Point and generating 130 megawatts for New York, enough power for 70,000 homes.

• Revolution Wind, planned 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard to send 304 MW to Connecticut and 400 MW to Rhode Island, enough to power 350,000 homes.

• Sunrise Wind, planned 30 miles east of Montauk Point, in proximity of the South Fork Wind farm, and generating 880 MW, also for New York, enough for about 500,000 homes.

NEO could win added wind-production contracts and/or sublease staging work at State Pier to other energy companies with plans to build offshore wind farms, bringing more jobs and revenue to New London.

With the election of President Biden, the energy industry now has in the White House a strong supporter of renewable energy technologies to displace fossil fuels and slow greenhouse gas emissions. We expect a quickening in federal approval processes for offshore wind farms, which were given a low priority by a Trump administration beholden to the oil and gas industries and disinterested in combating climate change.

With little fanfare at the end of 2020, Congress extended by another five years federal offshore wind development tax credits, which contribute to the economic feasibility of these projects and drive down the bid price, to the eventual benefit of consumers.

Meanwhile, the region’s congressman, Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney, has been working with the same vigor on making the wind-hub project a reality as he did in securing submarine contracts for Electric Boat, leading to explosive job growth for the company and the contractors that feed its material and service pipeline.

Courtney was part of the talks leading to the new host-community deal. The congressman also intervened to get changes in the project to assure that Cross Sound Ferry operations would not be hampered, a problem with the original design.

It was Courtney’s office that brokered an agreement between the Connecticut Port Authority and Genesee & Wyoming railroad to swap land so that a 5-acre parcel adjacent to State Pier can be used for turbine staging, while the authority upgrades rail-line access at the north end of the property.

Finally, it was Courtney who filed the legislation to deauthorize a part of the federal channel between the two existing piers, allowing creation of a single pier capable of accommodating heavy-lift equipment and operations, necessary not only for the offshore wind project, but in support of future cargo shipment opportunities.

The point is, this should be a big deal for New London and the region, supplying hundreds of jobs and helping economic growth, all in support of an important new clean-energy resource.

Meanwhile the port authority, the quasi-public agency created in 2014 and responsible for marketing and coordinating the development of the state’s ports and maritime economy, remains embroiled in controversy. Attorney General William Tong confirmed recently the authority has been under investigation by his office for some time based on audit reports and whistleblower complaints.

While past dealings, including too-cozy relationships between board personnel and those hired to do work for it, appear to be the subject of the investigation, doubts about the authority persist. That has led to various legislative proposals, including a requirement for regular reports on requests for proposals and contracts, on port upgrades, and concerning negotiations.

Gov. Ned Lamont should support legislative initiatives that boost the transparency of the port authority. Chairman David Kooris offers assurances that the authority, working with the Office of Policy and Management, has addressed past managerial and policy problems. But better reporting and tighter legislative oversight would help guard against more unpleasant surprises that interfere with Lamont’s plans to make the state a national leader in offshore wind development.

Editor's note: This editorial has been updated to reflect the latest power supply estimates for the various projects.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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