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CT, New England see return of offshore wind plans after setbacks

Southfork Wind
/
CT Mirror

Offshore wind is making its return to New England.

Nearly a year after some of the region’s largest offshore wind developers began making noises about pulling out of their projects because of increased costs, and six months after they actually did, a new round of bidding coordinated among three states appears to show that interest in developing offshore wind is still strong, even with larger price tags.

A three-state solicitation by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island received project proposals from four different developers by the Wednesday deadline, two of which essentially rebid the projects they’d pulled out of.

The total power submitted is about 5,570 megawatts, a good bit shy of the 6,800 megawatt limit set by the states. By way of comparison, 6,800 megawatts would be equivalent to more than three Millstones, the nuclear power plant that is the largest power generator in New England.

Charles Rothenberger, clean energy attorney with Save the Sound, an environmental advocacy group, called the nearly 5,600 megawatts “a substantial down payment on what we’ll need. It’s within striking distance of what the total solicitation was, so I would call that a robust solicitation,” he said. “Obviously, the devil will be in the details. I’m sure people will be looking very closely at the bid price for these projects.”

Kate Sinding Daly, senior vice president of law and policy at the Conservation Law Foundation called the proposals a significant step towards addressing climate change by reducing carbon emissions from the electricity sector.

“I think this is enough to ensure that the dirtiest, polluting power plants in New England are shut down,” she said. “That’s because (offshore wind) is going to be able to displace the need to fire up oil plants on the coldest winter days when gas is in high demand. And offshore wind is going to outcompete gas and that’s going to have immediate climate and public health impacts for the region.”

Offshore wind is not an intermittent energy source like solar – which only operates when the sun is shining. Offshore wind is considered variable, which means it always operates, though at different levels. Some of the worst weather can produce the most wind.

To Connecticut’s disadvantage, only one of the proposals designates the port of New London for construction and staging of the project. The rest plan to use ports in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection declined to comment on that, providing a statement that noted it would be reviewing the proposals.

Given Connecticut’s mandate for a zero-carbon grid by 2040, there’s almost no question the state will go with one or more of the projects. Their prices won’t be known until after the choices are made, but it stands to reason they will be higher than the earlier projects — though part of the point of the three-state solicitation was to get economies of scale that would subdue prices, at least a little.

Decisions on which projects will move forward are expected this summer.

The largest set of proposals came from Avangrid — parent of United Illuminating and the American arm of the Spain-based energy powerhouse Iberdrola. Avangrid’s Vineyard Wind 1 project off Massachusetts is under construction and already delivering power to that state.

Avangrid had pulled out of an 804-megawatt project for Connecticut called Park City Wind, which included jobs and port development in Bridgeport. It also pulled out of a 1,200-megawatt project in Massachusetts called Commonwealth Wind.

The cause was global economic conditions brought on by COVID, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing inflation and supply chain problems. Several developers on the East Coast either pulled out of projects or tried to renegotiate their terms.

Avangrid rejiggered both projects for its new bid. Park City is now New England Wind 1, at 791 megawatts. Commonwealth is New England Wind 2, at 1,080 megawatts. Avangrid is pushing 1 as its premier project.

In a statement, Avangrid CEO Pedro Azagra called the project shovel-ready and “prepared to start construction as soon as next year. With nearly all local, state, and federal permits in hand, all interconnection rights secured, and a Project Labor Agreement signed with a skilled, local union workforce, Avangrid is ready to go.”

Bridgeport still figures in as the project’s operations and maintenance base. The jobs there would be permanent, as opposed to construction jobs. It’s unknown how many there would be, but they would not be needed until the project is running, closer to 2030.

The construction and manufacturing jobs and economic development for the project will be in Massachusetts, however. And the project includes small power purchase components for Boston and a 20-community municipal power collective in that state. New England Wind 2 features a subsea cable manufacturing operation, also in Massachusetts.

There’s no saying if Connecticut will choose to buy any of the power from New England Wind 1 or 2, or from the Connecticut-specific project Avangrid also submitted. The state has been authorized since 2019 to purchase up to 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind. Park City had been the first purchase towards that goal. Its cancellation put the state back to zero.

An earlier offshore wind project, Revolution Wind, pre-dated that authorization and is underway. It will supply 300 megawatts for Connecticut and 400 for Rhode Island. That was the first multi-state offshore wind purchase.

Another proposal came from Vineyard Offshore, which is already developing two areas off New England and New York and a third off northern California. It partnered with Avangrid on Vineyard Wind 1. The new proposal would be Vineyard Wind 2, providing 1,200 megawatts. Construction and staging would be in Salem, Mass., and the port of Providence in Rhode Island with operation and maintenance in New Bedford, Mass. Only the interconnection would be in Connecticut.

“By making effective use of ports, facilities, and interconnection points throughout the region, Vineyard Wind 2 offers the most economic project configuration possible while delivering economic benefits for all three states,” Vineyard Offshore CEO Alicia Barton said in a statement.

Ørsted, which is already heavily involved in offshore wind development in the Northeast, also submitted proposals. It is proposing a 1,184 megawatt project called Starboard Wind for Connecticut or Rhode Island, or as joint project. The project would use the State Pier in New London for staging and construction.

Nicole Verdi, who heads up Ørsted’s government relations team in New England, said sticking with State Pier would create more economic development and jobs in New London.

“That’s really a key and important component of this bid for Connecticut, and we see it as an opportunity,” she said. “We’ve been in New London for the past few years. We’ve been partnering with different folks in Connecticut for the past few years. We really want to build on those partnerships and build on those relationships.”

Ørsted, originally partnered with Eversource, had invested some $100 million to prepare the pier for offshore wind work. Eversource since has gotten out of the offshore wind business, with Ørsted buying most of its stakes. New London is currently handling at least some of the staging and construction for three projects that are underway or, in the case of South Fork Wind off Long Island, also Ørsted’s project — was completed as of mid-March. The 132 megawatts generated by that project feed about 70,000 homes on Long Island.

Just last week, a clarification from the U.S. Department of Treasury allowed ports like New London that are considered energy communities to take advantage of a bonus tax credit for offshore wind work, helping to lower costs further.

The final project proposal is a rebid of SouthCoast Wind’s 1,200 megawatt project. The lease area for the project could handle another 1,200 megawatts. The project would be based in New Bedford, Mass., with the power interconnections traveling through Rhode Island into Massachusetts.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.