The Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island was the nation's first offshore wind project. Credit: District 4 United Steelworkers / Creative Commons

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State officials were not first movers but now hope to benefit from improved prices and technology for offshore wind.

When it comes to offshore wind, Connecticut is OK going its own pace.

After years of sitting idle as Atlantic Coast neighbors began to set targets and pursue projects, Connecticut took its first major step forward on offshore wind in June, when it ordered a 200 MW project due to come online in 2023.

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) put out another call for clean energy projects last month and has received several bids for more projects from offshore wind developers.

“We’re not upset we weren’t the very first movers,” said DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee. The decision to wait was strategic, he said. The technology has matured and prices have come down as the state waited for the right time.

“We’re frugal,” Klee said. “We want to make sure we’re not paying more than we have to.”

Offshore wind has already taken off in Europe and elsewhere in the Northeast. Rhode Island made history in December 2016 when it began operating the nation’s first commercial wind farm, Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm. Rhode Island’s Gov. Gina Raimondo also set a goal to increase the state’s clean energy portfolio to 1000 MW by 2020, and recently announced its second foray into offshore wind.

And in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker cemented the state’s reputation as a national leader in offshore wind in 2016 when he signed legislation calling for 1600 MW of new offshore wind energy by 2027. That led to a request for proposals soliciting offshore bids, and in May, the state settled on Vineyard Wind’s 800 MW project, expected to start construction next year.

The expansion of the offshore wind industry in the region has meant more competition, and more competition means lower costs. Emily Lewis, a policy analyst at the Acadia Center, said there’s a common misconception that offshore wind is more expensive than other forms of energy, when it’s actually quite cost competitive.

“The contracts that utilities entering with offshore wind companies are longer term,” she says. “Through that, they’re getting lower prices.”

The data is minimal right now, but her suspicion seems to be right. The price for the Block Island Wind Project was $0.244 per kWh, while the price for in-progress projects in Maryland is $0.132 per kWh.

Connecticut’s first wind farm is smaller than those in the works in other states.  The 200 MW Revolution Wind project will provide enough power to meet 3 percent of the state’s electric load, Lewis says. The developer, Deepwater Wind (recently acquired by Danish offshore wind giant Orsted), will build the project in federal waters 50 miles from the Connecticut coastline. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, with the project up and running by 2023.

State officials see tremendous potential for offshore wind projects to produce clean energy and jobs in the state. Lewis said it’s a huge opportunity for the port cities and the state, and could create a pipeline of career opportunities, including the development and construction of turbines in the port to the deployment and installation out at sea. Connecticut has a legacy of aerospace and marine manufacturing, so a skilled workforce is already here, according to Klee.

Deepwater Wind has committed to investing $15 million in the redevelopment of the pier in its port city, New London. The project will bring about 1,400 jobs to local residents, according to the company. Deepwater Wind has proposed two additional offshore wind projects: a 100 MW expansion of Revolution Wind and a new 700 MW project called Freedom Seas.

Vineyard Wind, another company bidding in Connecticut’s auction for zero-carbon energy projects, has set its sights on Bridgeport as its port city. “As offshore projects get built up and down the East Cost, because of Bridgeport’s location, there will be an ongoing stream using bridgeport to construct their facilities offshore,” said Erich Stephens, chief development officer at Vineyard Wind.

According to its proposal, Vineyard Wind would develop an 800 MW wind turbine facility to power the state, but also bring hundreds, maybe thousands, of jobs to the largest city in the state. Its plan includes an investment of $30 million to improve the harborside staging sites of the turbines which would be partially assembled in Bridgeport. “Those ports need investment to  make them ready for offshore wind,” Stephens said.

In Connecticut, Revolution Wind is the first step. But the state could do more to accommodate offshore wind.

“Connecticut is taking positive steps,” Lewis said. “We’d like to see them take the next step with the mandate.”

Neighboring states like New York and Massachusetts have set mandates for specific offshore wind goals. Right now, Connecticut has no such mandate — something that could change in the 2019 legislative session.

Meg Dalton

Meg is a freelance journalist and audio producer based in Connecticut who reports on the environment, gender and media. She’s reported and edited for the Columbia Journalism Review, PBS NewsHour, Architectural Digest, MediaShift, Hearst Connecticut newspapers, and more. In addition, her audio work has appeared on WSHU, Marketplace, WBAI, and NPR. Meg covers Connecticut and Rhode Island.