By Edmund H. Mahony | Hartford Courant

PUBLISHED: June 29, 2023

NEW LONDON – Giant tower components for what is expected to be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the northeast began arriving by ship this week at the State Pier here, which has undergone a $300 million rebuild to serve as a hub for the offshore industry.

Sixteen sections for what will be the first four, 300-foot tall turbine towers arrived at New London Harbor on the German-flagged cargo ship Trina. The components were shipped by the North American division of Orsted, a Danish leader in offshore renewable energy that, with electric utility Eversource, is building three windmill farms on big, empty stretches of windy ocean leased from the federal government about 35 miles southeast of Rhode Island.

“This is a first and it is really an historic moment for southeastern Connecticut,” said Ulysses Hammond, executive director the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority, which operates the pier and partnered with Orsted and Eversource in the massive reconstruction project.

Hammond called the arrival of the Trina a milestone in what the Port Authority hopes will be a reinvigoration of maritime commerce in New London, the state’s only natural deep water port and once one of the country’s most commercially important.

For decades, the state pier at the center of the harbor sat little used and neglected. The reconstruction is now more than three-quarters complete and when finished by year’s end it will be the country’s first terminal with two heavy capacity cargo berths.

The rebuilt, 40-acre pier is designed to handle all categories of heavy cargo. But for the next decade, it is expected to serve as a supply hub for wind farms south of Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.

Eversource and Orsted financed a third of the reconstruction, which has more than doubled in cost over the project life. The Eversource-Orsted venture also is committed to paying another $20 million over the next decade to lease the pier as a support base for construction of the offshore turbine farms.

The partnership’s three wind projects, known as South Fork Wind, Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind, are among about 20 now planned by a variety of groups on the continental shelf between Virginia and Maine.

Last month, Eversource said Orsted is buying its share of the joint venture for $625 million, allowing it to refocus on electric distribution. Both companies and industry regulators said the sale will not alter the construction project.

The tower components that arrived this week are for South Fork Wind, which is on track to be operational later this year and, if so, will be the first completed utility-scale offshore wind farm in federal waters, according to utility experts.

Unloading the massive turbine sections this week were cranes reaching hundreds of feet above the pier and visible to motorists on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, which crosses the harbor 200 feet over the Thames River, just above the pier.

The massive cranes, with tracks  that dwarf small trucks, arrived earlier this month, also by ship. Other wind mill components – turbine blades and nacelles – are scheduled to arrive by ship over the summer.

All the components will be assembled on the pier and shipped offshore, vertically, on specially designed ships, where they will be anchored by 40-ton bases and connected to Long Island and Rhode Island by undersea electric cable.

When connected to the electric grid, the Eversource-Orsted wind farms will generate a combined 1.7 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power about 1 million homes, according to project records.

Interest in business from offshore wind and the prospect of New London re-emerging as a commercial port has started talk of expansion among existing marine commerce and construction businesses, as well as new interest in industrial properties up the Thames River in Ledyard and Montville.

Contributing to talk of a renaissance, the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics is wrapping up $850 million in improvements to his shipyard across the harbor in Groton. And the U.S. Coast Guard has announced it is building its national service museum near the state pier in New London — just downriver from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Connecticut in its decades-long fight with New York over what to do with the spoils dredged from New London Harbor.

The decision cleared the way for offshore disposal of the dredged materials, guaranteeing continued passage through the harbor — not only for the submarines berthed at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, but for deep draft vessels at a new state pier.