Offshore wind power, the reason for the much-vaunted ongoing transformation of State Pier in New London, could provide endless opportunities for small businesses securing a niche in the supply chain that powers the industry.
As Carol Oldham, Northeast Director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, put it, “You don’t just put wind turbines in, and that’s it.
The Oldham Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to building an offshore wind supply chain, held a three-day workshop on the subject at the Hilton Mystic hotel in December. Sponsored by Revolution Wind, the Ørsted-Eversource partnership behind the offshore wind projects to be staged at State Pier, and the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, the workshop dubbed “Foundation 2 Blade” provided dozens of attendees ― business owners, educators and policy makers ― with insight into the industry and information on how to get involved.
The Southeast Connecticut Enterprise Region, or seCTer, and AdvanceCT hosted the workshop.
“A big misconception is that the only jobs are in the construction phase, and there’s so much more,” Oldham said. “A lot of people came up to me and said, ‘I had no idea.’ Fifty per cent of UK spending will be on operations and maintenance, keeping things running for the next 20 years.
According to the Business Network for Offshore Wind, the industry generates employment in areas such as steel fabrication, piling and drilling, carpentry, HVAC, electrical engineering, marine engineering, shipping, health and safety services, information technology, environmental surveying, legal and financial services, market research and project management.
“I didn’t realize how much was on the table,” said Tom Krivickas, a workshop attendee and president of CT Composites, a South Windsor fiberglass manufacturer. “I was surprised to see how big the opportunity is in our region. Almost everyone (at the workshop) was surprised by this.
Krivickas said he was familiar with the offshore wind industry before the workshop and was aware that some offshore wind components, including wind turbine blades, are made from composite materials like those his company works with. . When the Block Island Wind Farm, the country’s first commercial offshore wind project, was launched in 2016, it recognized the potential opportunities for repair and maintenance work.
“We’re a bit small,” he said of his 15-employee company. “We are not going to build these blades, but they are damaged and few people want to try to maintain them.”
He said he might consider expanding his business if it lands enough work in the offshore wind industry.
Ron Delfini, another workshop participant, is president of CThru Metals, a North Branford company that serves the aerospace, automotive, filtration and renewable energy industries with what he called a “unique” product.
“We take a sheet of metal and lay it out,” Delfini said. “It looks like a big roll of aluminum foil. We feed it into a machine that pierces it, stretches it and it comes out almost like fabric, thin as paper, with perforations.
He said the product’s potential offshore wind application is to protect wind turbine blades from lightning strikes. Made from a lightweight composite material, the blades need a way to dissipate the energy of a strike. One way would be to insert CThru’s metal foil inside the blades where it can absorb energy and direct it safely to an area on the ground.
“We want to get involved in offshore wind,” said Defini, whose business was spun off from another company two years ago and employs 15 people. “There are only three manufacturers in the world that make the blades, so for us they are the target market – and the contractors.”
He said offshore wind could represent “a multi-million dollar opportunity” for CThru Metals, adding: “We are fully prepared to add capacity.”
After attending the workshop, Aaron Smith, owner of Mystic-based Architectural Metals, a professional welding service and fabricator, said he sees offshore wind offering opportunities in secondary steel fabrication.
Smith said his two-person operation could make things like stairs, railings and ladders for offshore wind towers and maybe even the small boats needed to move between the towers and the shore. .
“It’s a bit removed from what I do now,” he said. “I didn’t know there were so many opportunities. I will have to change strategy.
Workshop participant Jason Dycus, operations manager for McCarthy Concrete in South Windsor, said his company could supply concrete for the construction of the industry’s onshore substations.
“It’s a huge opportunity for everyone,” he said. “There are going to be plenty of jobs for everyone over the next 20 plus years. It just depends on how hard you want to go and how willing you are to partner with other businesses.
A non-union shop, McCarthy Concrete hopes it will “get the same opportunity as everyone else” to get a job in the industry, Dycus said.
Also present at the Mystic workshop was David Schill, Vice President of Mohawk Northeast, the marine construction company that plans to build a marine terminal and metal fabrication plant along the Thames River in New London. As a board member of the Naval & Maritime Consortium, a network of companies involved in the advanced technology sector of the maritime industry, he has been following the offshore wind industry for years.
Schill said Mohawk Northeast plans to play a “supporting role” in the industry.
“What I’ve learned is that there are a lot of opportunities if the state can properly coordinate efforts,” he said. “We have several organizations studying offshore wind, and these organizations need to come together. … We need an entity, a person who leads the charge for offshore wind.