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Harnessing the Power of Offshore Wind

Connecticut has been slower than its neighbors in establishing an offshore wind policy goal. Nevertheless, the state entered the offshore wind rush in June 2018, when it awarded its first offshore wind project to Deepwater Wind as part of a broader renewable and clean power solicitation. Connecticut’s 200-MW contract piggybacked on Deepwater’s 400-MW Rhode Island project, providing economies of scale and lower power prices as well as an example of states working together to harness the economic potential of the industry. Another attractive aspect of the Deepwater Wind proposal was its economic development component — the company promised $15 million to refurbish the port of New London, as well as workforce development initiatives, a research partnership with the University of Connecticut and a pledge to contract with a local boatbuilder for the crew transfer vessels that will shuttle workers out to the wind farm.

Some observers note that Connecticut may have been smart to time its request for proposals (RFP) when it did — allowing the state to ride on the coattails of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island procurements and the interest that those RFPs generated. “We were able to offer the state of Connecticut very aggressive pricing and at the same time offer an investment to essentially help Connecticut punch above its weight in offshore wind projects,” said Matt Morrissey, a Deepwater Wind vice president.

While New London seems poised to serve as Connecticut’s offshore wind command center, the city is also competing with Bridgeport for the public and private funding that will cement its position as the port of choice for the industry. City leaders are strategically considering New London’s strengths and challenges when it comes to offshore wind, as well as the multiple different economies that could arise out of the expected project development. For example, planners see potential for New London to play a role in the technical and engineering aspects of offshore wind development, given its strong existing workforce of engineers and skilled tradespeople. On the downside, the city has a very small geographic footprint and lacks large tracts of land for siting offshore wind manufacturing facilities. Additionally, New London’s port is state-owned, limiting its ability to charge higher taxes for more lucrative land uses such as offshore wind staging and deployment. By taking a broad, long-term view, New London is hoping to generate durable opportunities in and around the offshore wind industry that help both the city and the region thrive.

New London seeks to ensure its share of economic development through mechanisms like the host agreement the city reached with Deepwater Wind (and which Ørsted states it will honor). The city’s Director of Economic Development & Planning Felix Reyes emphasized the importance of channeling Ørsted’s pledged $15 million investment to broader community revitalization efforts, rather than just funneling it to the “black box” of the city’s general fund. “How do we continue to increase our economic development over the long term?” Reyes asked. “People have to want to live here, work here. We have to create the amenities — the housing stock, the streets, parks and school systems — that make people want to bring their families here.” New London is working to achieve those broader goals through its ongoing negotiations with Ørsted around how the company’s pledged support will be divided up.

A new industry like offshore wind carries the potential for direct, indirect and induced economic impacts, and New London is thinking holistically about all three. “Are there technologies, affiliated businesses or start-ups that Ørsted has the ability to attract, invest in and help bring to New London?” asked the city Economic Coordinator Peter Lent. Lent and Reyes are exploring the potential for incubator or accelerator programs in New London that could support new technology development and the future production of alternative energy in the city. “This may put us in a position to look at other types of renewables, and build our reputation around that,” said Lent. As examples, he pointed to Stanley Black & Decker, which has established an R&D center in Hartford and contributes money to start-ups that could help them develop new products, and the fuel cell industry, which has spurred the development of supporting businesses and led to Connecticut’s position as a nationwide hub for the technology.

From a public engagement perspective, the city is proactively encouraging productive dialogue around the new offshore wind industry. Lent and Reyes pointed to several community outreach programs, including an economic forum on the subject, a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast featuring Ørsted representatives, and Ørsted’s ongoing tour of the region to build understanding and support for their projects. Local churches have been engaged on the subject, as well as unions and local representatives — and the reactions have been largely positive. While New London is currently in a waiting game to see where and how the offshore wind industry takes shape in Connecticut, the proactive steps of city leaders have ensured its place on Ørsted’s radar screen.

Offshore wind has the potential to contribute more than just energy and revenue to coastal communities, and strategic leaders are working to tap into that potential.

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