IN THE NEWS: State Pier wind energy project gains momentum in New London

July 26, 2021

As published by the CT Insider:

The renovation of the State Pier into a launching-pad for offshore wind energy projects is well-underway, state officials said last week, despite concerns from some lawmakers over the project’s $235 million price tag and efforts by local opponents to halt the development.

Work crews began the process of remediation in February at the century-old pier, which is owned by the Connecticut Port Authority. Existing buildings on the site have been demolished, according to authority officials, while earth-moving equipment is in place to re-grade a portion of the property known as “the hill.”

The later stages of the project, meanwhile, still face permitting approvals from state and federal regulators even as the final round of state bonds were approved on Friday.

The not-yet-permitted work includes one of the project’s most significant undertakings: Filling in the central wharf and adding several acres of space to handle massive heavy-lift equipment involved in the assembly of wind turbines.

“Ultimately, what we are left with is a much more capable facility that will be able to handle in addition to wind-turbine components, a wide variety of general cargoes,” said John Henshaw, executive director of the Port Authority.

Henshaw said the authority expects the project to be completed “near the end” of 2022, at which point the 30-acre site will be turned over to a joint-venture by Eversource Energy and Ørsted, which signed a 10-year lease to use the pier as a staging area for three wind projects off the coast of Rhode Island and New York.

The three wind power projects are expected to employ more than 100 people at the pier, according to Justin Mays, a spokesman for the venture.

One of the offshore sites, Revolution Wind, will supply 304 megawatts of energy to Connecticut and 400 to Rhode Island — enough to power 350,000 homes.

Construction over the next year is expected to add another 400 temporary jobs, officials said.

“I thought long and hard about the scale of this project, I think it’s transformative not just for New London and New London Harbor, I really think it’s transformative for the state and the region,” Gov. Ned Lamont told the state Bond Commission on Friday “It’s one of the most extraordinary deep water ports in the country, that’s why wind is going to be built out of there, what a difference that makes.”

Criticism of the project has focused on its soaring costs, which have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Port Authority reached a deal with the wind-energy developers last year at a total cost of $157 million.

Lamont conceded Friday that development of the project “did take a little longer and it was more expensive than we wanted.”

Still, the bond commission, chaired by the governor, approved the final tranche of bonds for the project worth $50 million, bringing the state’s total investment to $160.5 million. Eversource and Ørsted have committed another $75 million to the project — for a total of $235 million.

The only opposing vote on the commission, state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, questioned whether potential issues with older pilings on the site, or the expected dredging, could push the eventual cost even higher.

“I must admit, I’m very concerned with this project both in terms of the cost that may be borne by the taxpayers and a lack of transparency on the part of the Port Authority,” Cheeseman said.

Henshaw defended the cost of the project, saying earlier estimates were made during the “conceptual” phase, and grew as the details were hammered out. For example, he said, an installation berth had to be moved from one side of the site to the other, to prevent interference with the Cross Sound Ferry, adding “significant” costs to the project.

“At each of those steps, the price went higher, but it was driven in part by some external factors,” Henshaw said.

Kosta Diamantis, the deputy secretary for the office of policy and management, told the commission Friday that the latest cost estimates on the project are “rock solid,” and construction could wrap up under the current budget.

Opposition to the project has also arisen from the pier itself, which was historically used to handle shipments of salt, copper, steel and plywood.

The Port Authority’s application for an environmental permit from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection faces opposition by a road salt business that was forced off the pier as a result of the renovations, The Day reported.

An attorney for the business, DRVN Enterprises, was unable to comment last week.

DEEP spokesman Will Healey said Thursday that DRVN’s appeal of a draft license for the project that was recommended for approval by a hearing officer is being considered by the agency’s commissioner, Katie Dykes. A hearing before Dykes was held on Wednesday.

“Should the commissioner find that the facts of the hearing are correct, she will issue her final decision and the license would then be signed,” Healey said in an email.

Henshaw said the lease by the Eversource-Ørsted venture would not make the pier completely off-limits to other uses over the next decade. During “lulls,” their construction of offshore turbines, portions of the pier can be made available for other cargo, Henshaw said.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said the Port Authority, which was created less than a decade ago, appeared to be ill-equipped to handle the scope of the project.

“I’m a proponent of offshore wind,” said Formica, whose district includes New London. “I think we have to move forward with the project, I’m just concerned that the due diligence didn’t occur early enough, with enough specifics, to determine what the numbers might be.”

The chair of the legislature’s Energy Committee, state Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, said the cost-overruns associated with the project were “unfortunate,” but he remained focused on the long-term goal of building up the state’s clean-energy electric grid.

“This is a good thing overall,” Needleman said. “The details … that’s a little more murky.”