NEW LONDON — At the Connecticut Port Authority’s informational meeting Tuesday night, community sentiment tilted heavily in favor of accepting a deal to build a joint Ørsted-Eversource wind power facility at State Pier in New London before that opportunity dissolves or finds a home elsewhere.
David Kooris, acting chair of the port authority, gave an upbeat presentation to standing-room-only audience of about 200 people on the proposed upgrade of the pier’s infrastructure and managed to pivot attention away from questions concerning the port authority’s personnel and finances — as well as documentation requests — that have yet to be clarified.
“First and foremost, tonight is about sharing information, being transparent and providing you all with an opportunity to start to give us feedback on what you’re hearing and what you’re learning,” Kooris said. “We’re going to talk a lot about the current state of the pier as well as plans for its potential going back several decades and the reasons fundamentally why we collectively believe that the offshore wind opportunity presents an unparallelled possibility for maximizing the utilization of this facility and the benefits to the city and the region and the state.”
Ørsted, the Danish wind giant, and Eversource have partnered in an agreement under the name Northeast Offshore (NEO), which replaces their former partnership as Bay State Wind. In May, Governor Ned Lamont, the port authority, terminal operator Gateway and Bay State Wind announce a Memo of Understanding for a $93 million shared investment to redevelop State Pier into a state-of-the-art facility.
Sitting with Kooris at the front of the room were Matt Morrissey, Head of New England Markets for Ørsted, Mike Ausere, Vice President of Business Development for Eversource, and Matthew Satnick, Co-CEO and Chairman of the Board of Enstructure, a bulk terminals and logistics company that owns Gateway.
Kooris said that “decades of studies” had concluded the state should not proceed with pier improvements until it identifies a partner that will both share the costs of the upgrade and demonstrate a high likelihood of using the facility when completed.
He also spoke of the combination of renewable and low-carbon targets that have “begun to lay the foundation for a new industry on the east coast.”
“There’s the potential marketplace for 20 gigawatts of offshore wind generation in the near to mid term. Just to give you a sense of scale — that’s kind of like 40 modern natural gas power plants, so it’s a significant scale of energy generation and a significant scale of an opportunity,” he said.
The pier project is expected to produce 460 direct jobs and 395 indirectly related jobs during construction and more than 400 jobs when the facility is up and running, according to a 2019 Connecticut Economic Resource Center study.
“We are incredibly excited about this. As you’re well aware, State Pier has not fulfilled its promise for the city, the region or the state over these last several decades,” Kooris said. “We see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we hope we can all work together to hear your concerns, hear your hopes, incorporate them into our concepts and seize this opportunity, which will not be here forever to enable New London and the State Pier in particular to realize the potential that we’ve all held out for it for so long.”
Several state senators and representatives kicked off the public commentary session, including Sen. Paul Formica, who called southeastern Connecticut “a hub for energy,” adding, “we have the largest generator in New England here on our doorstep and we need to make sure we move to the next generation of energy generation.” Rep. Joe de la Cruz said, “Opportunities can change New London — whaling is over, but wind is coming and we have to embrace it.” Rep. Anthony Nolan said New London had been “the underdog for too long” and not gotten its fair share.
Sen. Cathy Osten reiterated the need for transparency at the port authority and for persistence in signing a favorable financial deal for the City of New London. Rep. Christine Conley said documents requested from the port authority for the August 20 Transportation Committee hearing had still not been released.
The first member of the public on the sign-up sheet was Edward Johnson of Groton, who said Ørsted’s exclusive use of the State Pier was “inappropriate” and that other industries should have access to the pier.
“This new proposed restriction on the who’s going to be using the port facility, allowing only the exclusive use of the State Pier by the wind power would have disastrous effects on other businesses and is viewed by some as an inappropriate use of state property to benefit the utility industry,” he said.
Also speaking in opposition was Kevin Blacker, of Noank, who asked to angle the microphone so that he could face the audience rather than Kooris and the panel.
“I’d like to turn and face the real authority in the room, which is the only authority, I believe — the public,” he said. “I believe there are an awful lot of questions that need to be answered before the deal is approved.”
Blacker said he had questions about the background of Enstructure executives, the source of dredging materials for infilling at State Pier, and the impacts of the project on the cost of electricity. Blacker also questioned whether wind power was included in the 2017 statewide freight plan.
Marty Olson, a New London city councilor and candidate for mayor, said Kooris’ presentation “raised as many questions as it answered.” He also called Ørsted’s exclusive use of State Pier a monopoly, which he considered un-American.
Kat Goulart, a member of New London’s Economic Development Commission, objected to a for-profit company occupying the port without paying taxes and advocated for more revenue for the City of New London.
Speaking in favor of the project was Richard Hine, COO of ThayerMahan, a maritime surveillance company located in Groton, who said the maritime expertise of southeastern Connecticut offered a unique workforce to Ørsted, creating an unusually good match for the project.
“In all my development experience, I’ve never seen an opportunity where a transformational industry like wind energy meets a town with the infrastructure and the people to support it like this,” he said. “I would encourage the politicians, the bureaucrats, the local residents — listen, learn, don’t blow this opportunity over administrative and bureaucratic issues and problems. Embrace it and I can tell you it’s going to be a special project that can transform New London.”
Stan Mickus, director of public affairs for Cross Sound Ferry, said his company supported alternative energy and economic benefits of Ørsted’s wind power proposal, but had concerns about the current plans for structural improvements to the State Pier.
“We are confident, though, that these ongoing discussions with the port authority, with Ørsted and with Eversource will result in a resolution to these issues, ensuring the long term vitality of Cross Sound Ferry and its affiliates in a successful offshore wind project development here,” he said.
The project represented “a new page, a new venture for the entire state,” said Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. “This turns over a new leaf and we cannot let this opportunity slip through our fingers.”
Nancy Cowser, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, or SECTER, a nonprofit economic development organization, spoke in support of the wind project as part of an overall strategy that includes strengthening and diversifying the regional economy.
“It’s not just about New London, it’s not just about Connecticut, this is the Eastern seaboard. Offshore wind fits well within our growing maritime industry cluster, which includes Electric Boat, the supply chain, the Navy, the Coast Guard — everything that’s emerging among our commercial ventures as well. It’s also very compatible with the workforce development efforts that are underway in this region — we have cutting-edge, nationally-recognized pipeline initiatives to help grow great jobs in the trades and this absolutely fits in with that initiative.”
Cowser said the discussions and disagreements were “very healthy” and would lead to a better agreement.
Barry Neistat, co-owner of Muddy Waters, said Ørsted and Eversource signed a lease in January for the top two floors of his building, which turned out to need extensive renovations.
“That might have scared other tenants but when faced with a setback, Ørsted and Eversource did not back out — instead they chose to step up and said they would not abandon such a loved New London building,” Neistat said. “This choice made it clear that they were working not only to make the space usable but to join our community as full partners.”
Neistat said it was important for New London to grab this opportunity. “Please don’t let this pass by — we’ve been down there 44 years and we’ve seen so much stuff pass by.”
After the meeting, New London Mayor Mike Passero said he found the event helpful because “everyone had a chance to get up and express their opinion.”
However, he said he still waiting for a new, signed deal, that will include an equitable share of the revenue generated by the port. One slide in Kooris’ presentation showed New London receiving more than $1 million during the first two years of operations, of which Ørsted and Eversource would contribute $750,000 — but Passero said those negotiations are still underway.
“We are very encouraged and we’ve had some great meetings and we think we have the outline of an agreement with Eversource and Ørsted and I’m confident that the property tax obligation is going to be met,” said Passero.
This story was corrected to reflect that Richard Hine is COO not CEO of ThayerMahan, to clarify that the venture is DBA NEO, and to correct Matt Morrissey’s job title.