Nutmeg State of Mind

After taking a global look at some of the most recent and disturbing trends of climate change, I’m taking a local look at some clean energy developments in my old home state of Connecticut. Despite leaving for college I have kept an eye sidelong cast at the state’s goings on. It faces many challenges, primarily economic, and I think a revamp of its energy sector can help begin moving the state in the right direction.

[New leadership in Hartford might bring about needed energy reforms.]

The northeast corridor of the United States is home to some of the country’s highest electricity prices. Constrained fossil fuel supply lines and aging infrastructure maintenance costs are significantly to blame. But there are opportunities to take advantage of more affordable resources and it appears the new governor – whom I will get to in a moment – is keen to an idea I have advocated for some time: overhaul the state’s southeast corner to take advantage of an emerging offshore wind market. After too much foot dragging, the country could sail toward achieving a significant portion of its energy from a resource sitting just beyond its shores. Given Southeastern Connecticut’s existing infrastructure, location, and workforce - not to mention its history of relying on oceanic resources - the timing may be right to try and spin up a new industry.

To begin, the Thames River (pronounced THāmz not temz, and is more of an estuary than a river) provides a natural highway for transporting equipment into and out of the Groton-New London area. It provides access to the entire eastern seaboard, which has been identified as an extremely strong offshore wind potential. Further, direct manufacturing and movement via ships avoids the complication of moving oversized equipment via highways and surface roads.

The ocean has always been a source of economic support for Connecticut and can be so again.

[The ocean has always been a source of economic support for Connecticut and can be so again.]

For decades the GNL (yeah, no one actually calls it that) was home to some robust manufacturing, particularly nuclear submarines. Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics, was a staple of employment in the region and could be expanded to include wind electricity equipment to its repertoire. It would not be the first such conversion. Further, wind power’s technological bent would not only augment the skills of the region’s existing workforce, it would help boost the nascent high tech industry in the state.

Looking to the future of energy generation only makes sense for the Constitution State (or the Nutmeg State, depending on your preference). In 2012 Superstorm Sandy exposed some of the frailty of Connecticut’s centralized generation, transmission, and distribution system. Shortly thereafter the state began experimenting with more flexible microgrid solutions which could help pave the way for future implementation of more resilient power sources (eg: offshore wind).

Millstone nuclear power plant, which has been contributing carbon-free energy for decades.

[Millstone nuclear power plant, which has been contributing carbon-free energy for decades.]

The state already has a program to move toward a zero-carbon energy matrix. Harnessing the potential of offshore wind can significantly help with that. When paired with the state’s existing nuclear assets – which I’m learning more about thanks to a hometown friend and Millstone employ who is gently nudging me to expand my horizons – carbon neutrality becomes a strong possibility.

Of course much of this will depend on the success of Ned Lamont, the state’s new governor. Mr. Lamont took office a few weeks ago with a lot on his plate, not the least of which is an ongoing battle around gambling expansion, underfunded public sector union liabilities, and a business exodus. All I know about Mr. Lamont is that he primaried then-Senator Joe Lieberman in 2006, only to lose to the Democrat-turned-Independent in the general election. He is a businessman, which despite the halo effect impacting some voters, is no guarantee of success in governing. But he seems forward leaning on the very energy issues above so I remain hopeful of that being a first step to needed reforms.

Connecticut is a tiny state, but a great one. It has a mountain of challenges but an equal level of potential to meet them. If you don’t know much about it, I encourage you to learn more, especially in person. And if you’re in this business of energy, policy, and the like, keep an eye out: there may be some good opportunities here.