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Wind power firm picks Rhode Island over New York for industry hub

A view of wind turbines from Block Island,

A view of wind turbines from Block Island, Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind installed the first offshore wind farm at Block Island. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

As New York state works to establish itself as the East Coast hub of the offshore wind industry, Orsted, one of the biggest beneficiaries of New York contracts, is establishing a hub of its own — in Rhode Island.

Orsted, the Denmark-based world leader in offshore wind development, acquired a foothold in the U.S. market when it bought Deepwater Wind of Rhode Island for $510 million in 2018. Its projects for New York will require cables of 50 to 100 miles to reach connection points in East Hampton and Holtsville from the Massachusetts-Rhode Island coast. 

Thomas Brostrom, president of Orsted North America and chief executive of Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, called Rhode Island the “obvious choice" in announcing the company's new innovation hub earlier this year. 

Rhode Island “has shown time and time again that it is home to one of the best innovation economies in the country and we look forward to becoming a part of that community,” Brostrom said. Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said the Orsted hub would help in “further cementing [Rhode Island's] status as America’s offshore wind capital.”

But New York has been unrelenting in its quest to establish the state as the U.S. hub for offshore wind, with Long Island as a vital nexus of that effort. Stony Brook University is home to a state and federally funded National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, and the state has ambitions for more offshore wind — some 9,000 megawatts — than any other state. 

By comparison, Rhode Island at present "does not have a formal offshore wind target or goal," the state's deputy energy commissioner, Nicholas Ucci, acknowledged in an email. He noted the state was first in offshore wind in the U.S., and that "we selected a 400-megawatt project — Revolution Wind — that is anticipated to be operational by the end of 2023." The project is being built by Orsted and partner Eversource. 

New York last year awarded Orsted a multibillion-dollar contract to develop an 880-megawatt wind farm off Rhode Island by 2024, while LIPA two years earlier awarded Orsted's Deepwater predecessor a 90-megawatt contract valued at $1.62 billion that was later increased by another 40 megawatts. 

No one's accusing Orsted of neglecting New York. Indeed, part of the reason Orsted won a lucrative state contract was because of its commitment to economic development in New York, including training facilities in Suffolk and operations and maintenance centers in Port Jefferson and, potentially, Montauk.

Robert Catell, who is chairman of the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium located at Stony Brook University, said while the Rhode Island innovation center was a "sexy" plus for that state, Long Island and New York will continue to get key economic drivers through its leadership in offshore wind, including from Orsted.

“While innovation is sexy and good, the jobs are going to be here,” in New York, Catell said. .

And he hinted, “I can assure you we’re working very hard to make sure we get our piece of the action" from Orsted, and that the company will soon "deliver on" commitments previously made by Deepwater to the Advanced Energy Center.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is leading the state's offshore wind efforts, cited tens of millions Orsted has committed to training and a port infrastructure in expressing no qualms with the Rhode Island investment.  

"Upgrades in New York will serve projects all along the East Coast, and in parallel, we expect development efforts in other states such as Orsted’s innovation hub in Rhode Island to also benefit New York and the broader region," NYSERDA said.

But some local wind-farm watchers wonder about at least one Orsted commitment for New York: an operations and maintenance facility planned for Montauk. A construction and operations plan updated by Deepwater Wind South Fork last month indicates Orsted still hasn't decided whether to build it in Montauk or a better-equipped alternative in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. 

If it decides to open the center in Montauk over Quonset Point, Orsted will use a location that’s smaller and will require “reinforcement and/or rehabilitation of the quayside, as well as both initial maintenance dredging to support crew transfer vessels,” modifications which “are not anticipated to be required at Quonset Point," the report said.

“I never thought for a moment they would go anywhere other than Quonset,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and wife of David Aripotch, one of six fishermen who own the Inlet Seafood dock that Orsted has an option to use as its Montauk operations center.

Brady, emphasizing that she is not an owner or partner in Inlet dock, added, “I’m not convinced they were ever actually going to be in Montauk.”

Meaghan Wims, a spokeswoman for Orsted's South Fork Wind Farm said plans for an operations and maintenance center in Montauk remain, noted the company has "agreed" to locate the facility in Montauk," with an option to use Inlet Seafood. Asked if the company had definitively settled on Montauk, she said, "That’s the plan, contingent on receiving local real estate rights." 

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