After a couple of disappointing setbacks, the University of Maine’s ocean wind power consortium has gotten some good news that could re-establish Maine as a home port for a new energy technology industry.
Last month, UMaine regained its position as a top contender for a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a pair of experimental offshore wind turbines, which would be anchored off Monhegan Island and feed electricity onto the grid.
The two-turbine demonstration project could be the proving ground of a much larger, multi-platform commercial generator, which could dramatically decrease the cost of wind power and change Maine’s role in the energy pipeline.
Last week, the consortium, known as Maine Aqua Ventus, announced a new partner, a French defense company known as DCNS Group. It will join the university’s partners, Cianbro Corp. and Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia-based parent company of the utilities serving northern and eastern Maine.
DCNS Group is a military contractor that builds submarines and naval ships, but has been branching out to renewable energy projects. It owns an Irish company developing tidal power turbines and is working with Emera to test tidal power generators in the Bay of Fundy.
It will bring expertise in engineering and building systems in ocean environments and experience managing complex projects. It will not be an equity partner for now, but could choose to become one if the project advances.
A big advantage for Maine Aqua Ventus over other competitors for the DOE grant is that Maine Aqua Ventus has in hand an agreement from the Maine Public Utilities Commission to buy the power that the demonstration project produces for 20 years. That income stream will support the kind of experimentation needed to make a breakthrough. Maine utility customers will pay a little more for the power it produces – about 73 cents a month for the typical household – but they are buying much more than the electricity that they use right now.
They are building a clean energy future.
There are hundreds of offshore wind farms in Europe, but almost all of them are in shallow water with turbines anchored in the ocean bottom. The Maine proposal calls for a floating turbine that can be employed in deep water, in areas where the wind blows the hardest.
UMaine has designed turbines built out of advanced composites rather than steel to fight corrosion and reduce weight. The platform hulls would be built from concrete, which would be more durable than steel and could be fabricated in Maine.
If the technology developed in Maine works, the world will be coming here to buy it.
There is still a long way to go before we will know if this experiment is a success, but the cost of not trying is much too high. Burning fossil fuels is changing the climate, driving sea level rise, ocean acidification and other environmental consequences that negatively affect the way we live.
We should be moving toward a clean energy future, so it’s a relief to see some steps in the right direction.
Our View: Ocean wind progress a welcome development - The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram