CT Construction Digest Friday April 30, 2021
Think of it as Oil Patch version 2.0.
As the nation's nascent offshore wind industry begins revving up, New London and the surrounding region are poised to become front-and-center in the push to bring large-scale offshore renewable energy to the nation.
Roughly 10 big commercial wind projects — some languishing in the pipeline for years — are beginning to catch a tangible updraft. Once turning, colossal turbines rising off southern New England's coast will bring enough power ashore to light millions of homes.
In Connecticut, a major overhaul of State Pier in New London is expected to begin this spring. Danish wind developer Orsted, and its partner, New England's Eversource Energy, will use the revamped pier as a staging area for three big projects in federal waters just east of Block Island, R.I.
And in Washington, the Biden administration says it wants to start a slate of environmental reviews, make cash available to ports and developers, and offer new areas for lease off the coast of New York and New Jersey. The goal is to open the spigot on projects that promise to spur the economy while slashing harmful carbon monoxide emissions.
Indeed, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management announced Thursday that it will begin an environmental review of Orsted and Eversource's Revolution Wind, starting the clock on a 30-day public comment period. Revolution Wind, located in federal waters 20 miles south of Rhode Island, would supply 304 megawatts of power to Connecticut and 400 MW to the Ocean State.
The nation's first and only commercial wind farm came online four miles off Block Island in 2016. It's five turbines generate a modest 30 MW of power for the popular tourist destination.
In contrast, Vineyard Wind will erect 62 state-of-the-art General Electric Haliade-X turbines to supply Connecticut with 804 MW of electricity — about 14% of the state's electric supply — when it plugs into the New England electric grid in 2025. Vineyard Wind, which will use port facilities in Bridgeport, is a project of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables.
"Things are going to start happening fast," says Sylvain De Guise, who runs the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton. He likens the recent developments to the coming of spring: "A couple of buds, next thing you see are some flowers and trees blooming. When it starts happening, it happens pretty fast."
To be sure, the projects face some headwinds. Commerical fishermen say wind farms threaten their livelihoods. The State Pier project is a target of critics who cite poor oversight, cost overruns and a lack of transparency.
Still, Connecticut has signed two deals to buy electricity generated offshore. And a lot of people see a huge potential for well-paying new jobs.
"It's not for the faint of heart to try to figure out how to do this. But I think the rewards are worth the effort," says David Hardy, a former U.S. Navy submariner who runs Orsted's North American offshore wind operations.
The Day sifted through hundreds of pages of regulatory filings to take a look at where and how these massive turbines will rise from the sea bed. In the coming months, we'll follow the wind farms' progress and examine their impact on Connecticut consumers, fishermen, workers and communities.
Meantime, companies like Groton-based ThayerMahan are ready to jump in. ThayerMahan's cadre of young, whiz-kid engineers are developing cutting-edge technology to help the industry monitor offshore waters and the marine mammals living there. The company has already signed on with Revolution Wind, where as many as 100 giant turbines could be turning by 2023.
"We don't mine coal or drill for oil," says Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat. "This is just completely turning that on its head, so that now we're going to be instrumental in terms of developing global energy.
"We're suddenly becoming the new Oil Patch," he says, "even though it's not oil."
Illustrations by Scott Ritter/The Day. Sources: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; U.S. Geological Survey; Northeast Ocean Data.org; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Narrbay.org; ESRI; Ørsted/Eversource; Copenhagen Infrastructure/Avangrid. Illustrations are not drawn to scale; export cable routes are approximate.
It’s back to the future for regional planners promoting a rail line that would revive the Inland Route linking New York and Boston by way of Hartford, Springfield and Worcester.
The cost is estimated at between $6.4 billion and $9.4 billion over a 10-year construction period, according to a study commissioned by the Capitol Region Council of Governments. While there is no funding for the rail line, supporters are encouraged by President Joe Biden’s proposal to spend billions of dollars on the nation’s infrastructure.
The study also estimates that “between 20,000 and 40,000″ jobs have left the region “due to limited regional rail access.” An improved and expanded commuter rail line would help bring them back over the next three decades.
The benefits of restoring the rail line that’s deteriorated due to a lack of investment would be tremendous for the Hartford-Springfield region, which is 40th in size in the U.S., the study says.
“We’re not a village,” said Lyle Wray, executive director of the council of governments, a planning group.
The Metro Hartford-Springfield region “suffered a degradation of passenger rail service” in the 1970s and 1980s that coincided with its regional economic decline, the study said. The study also calls for adding stations to an upgraded Hartford Line, including West Hartford, Newington, Enfield and North Haven.
Rebuilding the rail line would stoke investment in the region over 30 years of between $47 billion and $84 billion linked to new jobs in professional services, according to the study. It would include $27 billion to $48 billion in wages, residential and commercial construction jobs between New Haven and Worcester and local and state taxes in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The study points a way for the Hartford region and Connecticut to capitalize on its location between New York and Boston.
“We’re in the middle of the barbell,” Wray said. “We’re in the middle with a bad rail system.”
President Biden is proposing about $2 trillion in public works spending, though legislation must wind its way through Congress. In addition, all 435 House members and 100 senators will compete for the federal aid.
Wray sees an advantage for southern New England, with Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Rosa DeLaura, D-3rd, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee and a New Haven resident.
Work would not have to start from scratch. The Hartford Line that connects New Haven, Hartford and Springfield opened in 2018. Remaining work includes electrification, a replacement of the Connecticut River Bridge at Windsor Locks, double-tracking in areas, five new or relocated stations and upgrading the downtown Hartford rail viaduct, the study said.
The East-West Rail project in Massachusetts would link Springfield to Worcester and Boston, and potentially westward to Pittsfield.
“These services nominally exist today, but with only one train in each direction ... unreliable performance and uncompetitively slow speeds — about an hour longer than driving in mid-day conditions,” the study said.
“Together, the East-West Line and the completed Hartford Line would reconstitute a 21st century version of the old Inland Route — regular train service from Boston to New York via Worcester, Springfield, Hartford and New Haven, which the region has lacked for decades,” the study said.
The compactness of Southern New England establishes a “natural rail market” reinforced by the push to decarbonize the economy in response to climate change and a “gravitation to smaller, well-connected cities” in response to COVID-19, the study said.
NEW BRITAIN – The city’s School Building Committee will be exempt from holding daytime meetings and have the authority to enter into contracts, following the final approval of any feasibility study, preliminary and final plans by the Board of Education and the Common Council.
In a 9-6 vote, the council approved Wednesday to allow the SBC to hold meetings that are earlier than 6 p.m., an exemption that is also given to the commissions on aging, persons with disabilities, youth services and board of assessment appeals.
The SBC is a non-paid seven-member organization appointed by the city, according to the city’s ordinance. It is responsible for developing preliminary plans and cost estimates for each school construction project and reports are made to the Board of Education, the Common Council and the Mayor’s Office.
Two amendments were made to the approved resolution. The first involves the membership of the committee, which would still be composed of seven electors of the city appointed in accordance with the charter and while no alderpersons can be appointed, they can continue to serve as liaisons.
The second change relates to the advertisement for bids and entering into contracts. According to the resolution, it reads that upon final approval by the BOE and the Common Council of any feasibility study, preliminary and final plans, and by the BOE of the educational requirements and specifications, the SBC shall, subject to the Common Council authorizing resolution, advertise for bids for the construction and enter into contracts in the city’s name.
Two residents called in to express their concerns about the proposed changes, stating that the changes are not good governance.
Ann Speyer, a longtime resident, said it does not make sense for the Common Council to be removed as one of the final authorities to enter into a contract and guidelines that have served New Britain well for decades should not be changed. Fellow resident John McNamara agreed, echoing that the BOE should have final approval on any decisions that are made by the SBC.
Alderwoman Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, who co-led the resolution with Alderman Daniel Salerno, said nothing happens with the SBC that does not ultimately have to go through the BOE and the state, who oversees project funding.
“The BOE has always been the sole entity that makes the educational decisions for construction projects,” she said, which includes the use of the space, the architect, and the designs.
She said the new resolution does not change that process. After the BOE does its work and moves forward with the Common Council, the responsibilities of the day-to-day management of the project goes to the SBC, who hires the construction team based on the feasibility study that is approved by the BOE.
“I don’t understand the objections and the question on oversight because there’s a ton of oversight,” Beloin-Saavedra said.
Alderman Chris Anderson, who voted against the resolution, said while the amendments were good changes, they were not enough for him to support it. He believed the resolution consolidated power, reduced transparency and eliminated checks and balances.
Referencing to past practices, Anderson said if the SBC was violating the intent of the resolution, “That’s a problem and that behavior should have been corrected rather than retroactively going back and changing the wording.”
Oversight coming from the state is critical, “but we’re not a legislative body that governs anything the state does,” Anderson said. “What we can do is look at the checks and balances between the powers that be here in New Britain. That’s what’s being changed now. By removing the common council and the board of education’s checks and balances, I think that’s a bad move.”
NEW HARTFORD — A developer is rapidly moving toward a deal to build 100 to 150 new age-targeted and age-restricted dwelling units in town.
Age-targeted is for renters ages 52 to 55 and age-restricted is for tenants older than 55. The need for senior housing has been recognized for years in the community where seniors are the fastest-growing demographic.
During the first in-person Board of Selectmen meeting in more than a year, First Selectman Daniel V. Jerram said Monday work on the proposal has been going on behind closed doors for three years. The developer is seeking a tax abatement for the project, which could cost $18 million.
“He has filed a letter of intent,” Jerram said, “and we are at the point of discussing the ‘hows and whys’ of New Hartford’s future. How do you feel about it? Would the town consider a tax abatement? This developer has asked for one over a period of time and we need to address publicly that we are thinking about it.”
The selectmen, who in open meeting appeared enthusiastic, went into executive session to discuss the ramifications of such a deal. The public, however, will have to give final approval for any abatement to be put in place.
Jerram said the property under consideration is open space and generates only $500 in tax revenue annually. If an abatement were approved, it could be for any period up to 20 years and be phased out in stages.
“For instance, we might get $5,000 in taxes in the first year, which is a lot better than $500, and then the taxes could increase over the years,” he said.
The developer reportedly wants to build the project over time, with perhaps 40 units in the first phase, another 40 in the second wave and the remainder later.
Also at issue is the impact on the sewer and water system. More than a decade ago, the town built a large sewage treatment facility, based on the assumption of rapid municipal growth. The 2008 recession left the town gasping, with a large debt and small user base as the anticipated growth became a distant dream.
The town is now selling its sewer and water systems to Aquarion Water Co. for $8 million. The town’s Water Pollution Control Authority is forming a public-private partnership with AWC to extend sewer service into Pine Meadow.
WPCA Chairman Denton Butler said his authority’s response to the proposal was “overwhelmingly positive.”
But, he added, the WPCA must consult with AWC.
“We have one set of regulations and they have another,” Butler said.
Jerram said, “The developer is looking for a signal from us. Abating taxes on a property that brings in $500 is a no-brainer, but there are a number of different ways to approach it.”
He said the trickiest part will be to balance the town’s need for senior housing with fairness to other taxpayers.