Favorable winds are blowing from offshore — winds that literally will bolster the economic and environmental futures for both the region and state, as long as state officials and regulators move decisively.
Connecticut last week received three proposals vying to provide the state’s first offshore wind energy project. New Bedford, Massachusetts-based Vineyard Wind proposes to bring 190 megawatts of energy to Connecticut from a large-scale wind farm 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Deepwater Wind, which already developed the wind farm off Block Island, proposes to generate power for Connecticut from an offshore wind farm between Montauk, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard; while a joint Eversource and Denmark-based Orsted proposal would bring the energy to Connecticut from an offshore wind farm 65 miles off New London’s coast. Both the Deepwater and Eversource/Orsted proposals say they will bring 200 megawatts of power to the state.
Besides helping fuel the state’s energy demands and reduce dependence on dirty fossil fuels, the project chosen also could generate some $16 million in local, state and federal taxes; infuse cash directly into a fund set up to help spur the local economy; and create hundreds of jobs for the region.
New London stands at the epicenter of this potential. As Scott Bates, chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority, pointed out last week, not only is New London strategically located at the geographic center of these potential offshore wind farms, but it is also the only deepwater port between Boston and Norfolk without width restrictions or bridges that impose height limitations on its main channel, making it a perfect transportation and manufacturing hub for turbine parts.
While wind energy has many assets, some have been slow to accept this form of energy generation because it can be a lethal flight hazard to migrating birds, mar the natural landscape and pose deleterious impact on the ocean. A wind farm located as far offshore as those being proposed, however, shouldn’t harm the marine ecology and poses little threat to aesthetics. Certainly, these turbines would have not have as high a degree of high visibility as ridgeline wind farms that have created much controversy in many locations, including northern Vermont.
More careful wind farm siting and advanced turbine technology are also helping to mitigate the impact of wind energy on birds. Careful examination of bird flight paths and application of this knowledge should make it possible to strategically locate an offshore wind farm, given the vast expanses of available open ocean. Even the Audubon Society, a much-respected agency dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife, supports wind energy projects as long as they are sited in places that minimize threats to birds.
Among the reasons for the society’s support is that global warming poses a much more serious threat to birds and wildlife than do wind farms.
In Connecticut, a successful wind energy bidder is expected to be chosen in June, with a contract executed and approved by the fall. While planned timelines for large projects such as these often are overly optimistic, the governor and other state officials are encouraging this development. They must step up to quickly support a viable project. Labor leaders and environmental advocates have already enthusiastically backed the state’s request for offshore wind proposals.
We advocate that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority move decisively and as quickly as possible to make one of these projects a reality. Not only does offshore wind energy for Connecticut make sound environmental sense, but the project could also be a key to finally revving up the long-stagnant local economy and New London’s much-awaited economic revitalization.