Block Island Wind Farm (Credit: CT Examiner/Clingman)

45-Day Window for Connecticut Port Authority Hearings

in Editorials/Port Authority

It’s remarkable that former board chairs Scott Bates and Bonnie Reemsnyder have so far not answered a single substantive question from either the press or state legislators about their leadership roles in either the pending wind energy deal with Eversource and Ørsted, or in the near dissolution of the Connecticut Port Authority. The same can be said for Executive Director Evan Matthews, who for all we know may still be be drawing a salary from the state of Connecticut.

In that regard, I’d like to join State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) and State Rep. Christine Conley (D-Groton) in calling for an additional hearing that includes not only Bates, Reemsnyder and Matthews, but also former office manager and ethics liaison Gerri Lewis, and Catherine Smith, who as Commissioner of the Department of Community and Economic Development under the previous administration led the initial negotiations of the wind energy deal.

As much as I am inclined to believe that in this case even a flawed deal may be better than no deal at all, while we have the opportunity to ask questions and exercise added caution regarding activities which may impact everything from the electric rates for an entire generation of Connecticut residents to determining fair compensation for New London, it seems negligent to wait until a time when hearings will be merely an opportunity for finger pointing and rubbernecking.

If we take as accurate the timeline provided to us at an informational meeting on Tuesday in New London, we have fewer than 45 days to agree to a deal that would hand over exclusive use of State Pier for the next decade to a joint venture of Eversource and Ørsted to stage the construction of an as yet unknowable number of wind turbines off the coast of the Northeast.

In theory, it’s a chance to get in at the bottom floor of a business with an estimated worth over the next decade or so of $70 billion generating more than ten times the energy of the Millstone nuclear powerplant in Waterford. 

If only it was so straight forward as the headline $93 million figure which mistakes the value of the deal for the cost.  Instead rather the potential profits are unknown, and to an extent unknowable. In America, offshore wind energy is the wild west, requiring large investments, without regulatory certainty or a clear set of industry best practices. Usually in the balance such risk requires at least an opportunity for outsized profits.

Are the risks and profits properly apportioned?

I have to say that what we do know about the evident prioritizing of port authority revenues, giving short shrift to New London, inevitably raises a variety of questions regarding motivation.

At the very least a hearing would help us better understand why and when the port authority settled on these partners and this particular deal.

A hearing could also lend more confidence by explaining the frankly peculiar makeup of the negotiating committee which included Parker Wise, Evan Matthews, Bonnie Reemsnyder, and Catherine Smith – not all obvious choices for a deal of this scale or nature – of which only Wise remains to complete the negotiations.

How exactly was the port authority negotiating committee selected, and how did it function?

Apart from the deal directly, the public has every right to have confidence in the proper functioning of the authority. 

Why did David Kooris in his interview on Tuesday, after pretty much wrapping himself around every other aspect of the project except outreach, feel the need to distance himself from the port authority finance committee – as he noted, in all of his time working with the authority, not once had he ever met with the finance committee. I can’t help wondering why that was important to make clear.

Reemsnyder, who led the finance committee, and Lewis apparently have material disagreements regarding their time together at the authority, those disagreements should be aired and resolved as part of a public hearing.

Matthews and Reemsnyder should also clarify why Lewis was fired and provide assurance that there was no retaliation for legitimate complaints regarding authority spending or accounting.

Ideally, the committee holds a hearing and our questions are satisfied, until then we’ll be left holding our breath and nose.