Why Lamont is courting a Danish offshore wind company
To secure his state’s foothold in the growing offshore wind industry, Gov. Ned Lamont headed to the modern glass residence of Danish Ambassador Lone Dencker Wisborg for a welcoming reception on Wednesday in Washington D.C.
It was the precursor to a Thursday summit, where Lamont could meet face-to-face with officials from Danish energy giant Orsted.
The company has plans for a massive offshore wind farm called Revolution Wind off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. It will power Connecticut with 300 megawatts of renewable energy and create construction jobs in the port of New London.
Like many other coastal states, Lamont wants to increase Connecticut’s procurement of offshore wind. He has submitted a bill to set a goal for the state to get up to 1,000 megawatts of energy from offshore wind suppliers in the future.
He was also the only governor to attend the National Governor’s Association Global Energy Solutions Summit, where Thomas Brostrom, Orsted’s North American president and CEO of US Offshore Wind, presented on Thursday.
Lamont said Thursday the Revolution Wind project is Connecticut’s best option to serve its energy needs in the future. He noted the possible closing of the Millstone nuclear plant as more reason to explore clean-energy alternatives.
“We have to think about world 10-to-12 years out, where nuclear is not a part of it,” he said. “How do we backfill? Wind, solar and energy efficiency is what we’ve been talking about.”
But while Lamont pushes to expand the state’s offshore wind portfolio, he is also facing pressure to apply more regulation to the Revolution Wind project to protect marine wildlife and increase the number of Connecticut jobs the wind farm creates.
A small coalition of legislators and union supporters have met with the governor’s administration to make their pitch: they want Lamont to support legislation or Department of Energy and Environmental Protection policy to cap the amount of sound that Orsted can make during the installation of their wind turbines. The group has not spoken of their lobbying effort publicly before.
“We are very sensitive to the impacts on marine life and we’d like to make sure that that the technology used with any new offshore wind projects is environmentally appropriate,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport.
They are not concerned about humans hearing the noise, but instead the impact of huge sound waves on sea creatures like whales and turtles.
Two turbine bases — monopile and jacket pile — emit large amounts of sound when installed. These bases use enormous steel piles that are driven into the seafloor.
“What I am very, very nervous about at this point is, there is a contract out for 200 megawatts and if this happens with the monopiling or jacket piling — in any case with high levels of decibels, over 140 decibels at, I believe, 750 meters distance — there is definitely disruption to the baleine whales,” said Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford, an environmental activist who has previously worked on sea turtle conservation in Florida. “That would interfere with their feeding, mating and also disrupt their sense of direction as well.”
But by changing the base of the wind turbine, Orsted could change the underwater sound emissions created during construction, these advocates say. Another more rarely used base called a gravity foundation plants a steel pile in a bell of concrete that sits on top of the seafloor. This base can be floated slowly to the bottom of the ocean, minimizing sound emissions, advocates say.
The steel piles used in wind turbine construction are typically made in Europe, said Michel. But if Orsted opted for the gravity foundation, it might choose a local concrete producer to supply the thousands of tons of heavy concrete for the base, he said.
Michel was contacted about the issue of these wind turbine bases by Chris Bachant, a business agent for the Carpenter’s Union, which represents about 500 concrete workers in Connecticut. Bachant, who served on Lamont’s transition team and has discussed the issue with the governor, believes this strategy is the best way to seize jobs in the offshore wind industry.
He and some lawmakers envision Connecticut as the birthplace of a new industry: the supplier of eco-friendly bases for offshore wind farms.
“In my opinion, the best opportunity to create jobs is a concrete foundation,” said Bachant.
Lamont has not taken a position on the wind turbine base question yet, but he shares the vision of Connecticut as a manufacturing hub for offshore wind.
“New London is the most realistic and probable port for all of the manufacturing for the wind farm,” said Ryan Drajewicz, Lamont’s chief of staff. “We believe the combination of the fact that it is a deep port and there is no bridge, that New London should be ground zero for this next revolution of alternative energy, that all of the manufacturing and assembling should be happening in New London. We think that makes good strategic sense and I think it creates an opportunity for New London to play a major, if not the major player in the manufacturing of the wind energy.”
Orsted representatives and Lamont had one “high-level, get-to-know-one-another” meeting since Lamont took office, said Drajewicz. Their office’s policy team has been looking into the issue of wind turbine bases, he said.
Lamont has also discussed this project with Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, said Drajewicz, because that state is getting 400 megawatts of power from Revolution Wind.
Meanwhile, Orsted has not yet finalized its turbine supplier or construction plan, said Meaghan Wims, a spokesperson for the firm. The company is still waiting on a range of state and federal approvals before it starts construction — possibly as early as 2021. The wind farm is projected to be in operation by 2023.
Orsted already plans to invest $15 million in the New London State Pier to support this and future offshore wind projects.
“We plan to use port facilities in New London for important construction activities and will be able to provide more detail in the future as we further refine our engineering plans,” Wims said. “We also plan to construct one of the crew transfer vessels in Connecticut but we have not yet selected our boat builder.”
Eversource, which transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas and supplies water to 4 million customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, agreed to pay $225 million for a 50 percent interest in two Orsted offshore wind projects and 257 square miles encompassing two lease areas off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Orsted and Eversource are now negotiating a contract on the sale of power. The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will approve the contract when it is finalized, said Nick Neely, legislative liaison for PURA.
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Hearst Connecticut reporter Dan Freedman contributed to this story.