Companies partnering with Maine for wind technology

The former Brunswick Naval Air Station could become a green-energy hub

By Ramona du Houx- January 3rd, 2010 

A massive hanger on BNAS. The base has nearly two million square feet of industrial and commercial space that could be used to build wind turbines and component parts.
A massive hanger on BNAS. The base has nearly two million square feet of industrial and commercial space that could be used to build wind turbines and component parts. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Impressed, was the look on the countenances of Statoil representatives after they finished their Maine energy infrastructure tour with Bath Iron Works, as the last stop. Seeing how the company makes state-of–the art destroyers for the U.S. government is always impressive.

Instilling confidence that Maine is the right partner to work with in producing wind turbines was a clear objective of Maine’s delegation that hosted the Norwegian company’s visit. Another stop along their tour was the soon-to-be decommissioned Naval Air Station Brunswick.

“We came in by helicopter; the landscape is beautiful,” said Knut Steen, Statoil’s chief engineer on the project, “There is a great willingness here to get this going. Right now we’re getting to know each other and seeing opportunities. It’s impressive.”

Last September, UMaine professor Habib Dagher and the State signed an agreement with Statoil, pledging to work together on offshore wind-turbine development. That agreement helped UMaine win an $8 million grant to help create an offshore research and development wind site.

“We beat out 42,” said Professor Dagher. “The federal government is looking at Maine to move the country forward in offshore-wind development.”
Statoil created the Hywind, which is the world’s first floating turbine tethered to the ocean floor with cables.

“We’re working with Statoil to jointly benefit Norway and Maine,” said the professor.

“We are working with a variety of technologies. With the research and development piece, we are looking to make turbines better; faster to erect and deploy, more reliable, and easier to maintain.”

The Hywind floats in 650 feet of water, seven miles off the coast of Norway. “It’s a prototype,” said Steen. “One that is working extremely well. We’re looking to build bigger turbines, for wind farms, possibly with Maine.”

China and Japan are also possible partners for Statoil.

MRRA director Steve Levesque, Lisa Read of BIW, and Rep. Seth Goodall view Hanger 5 at BNAS. Levesque said there are 47 companies interested in redevelopment of the base.
MRRA director Steve Levesque, Lisa Read of BIW, and Rep. Seth Goodall view Hanger 5 at BNAS. Levesque said there are 47 companies interested in redevelopment of the base. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Sjur Bratland, the asset manager for Hywind, and Steen came here to see the expertise, industrial infrastructure, communities, and government support Maine has in wind development.

“I’ve been impressed by the capacity to build structures like this, actually. We’ve also looked at possible construction sites, and discussed possible methods of getting the products deployed in deep water,” said Steen.

Professor Dagher was Statoil’s guide over their two-day visit. The first day was spent at UMaine’s Advanced Composites Center.

“We had 30 people from all over the state give presentations on wind development,”
said Dagher. “People from industry, the Port Authority, Maine Composites Alliance, the Wind Energy Industry Initiative, and federal and state permitting officials answered questions. In Maine we have the ability to take a turbine from a research and development stage to manufacturing.”

At UMaine’s composite center, the Norwegians were able to see how composite technologies can make structures stronger, more durable, and whether resistant.

“We discussed using that technology for projects. I was impressed by the center’s technology and the day’s presentations,” said Steen.
Bratland, Steen, and members of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) toured Hangar 5 at Brunswick Naval Air Station, a possible place to build wind-tower components.

“It’s a 175,000-square-foot job generator,” said Steve Levesque, executive director of the MRRA, talking about the capacity of Hanger 5. “This could be an ideal turbine manufacturing complex. The building we saw on the trip to Europe where they were building turbines was half the size of this.”

The base has nearly two million square feet of industrial and commercial space, as well as 13 miles of electric transmission lines. The single-mode fiber network connecting most buildings at BNAS can conservatively operate at 1 to 5 gigabits per second, which is 10 to 30 times faster than the best multimode fiber-optic cabling available in the marketplace.

Along with wetlands, base housing, and an eight-mile, recently resurfaced runway, equipped with massive hangers, the area would make an ideal green-energy hub.

“That’s the goal,” said Levesque.

And education plays a key role. The Legislature approved an extension of UMaine that will teach engineering along with Southern Maine Community College’s composite programs at BNAS. Currently, the base has Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a school teaching aeronautics.

Levesque said at least 47 companies have expressed and interest in the redevelopment of BNAS.

“We’re looking for multiple companies in the renewable-energy sector to locate here. It’s one of Maine’s key economic targets. Our vision is really an energy-centered business and living complex. This will be the epicenter,” said Levesque. “It will be a living laboratory for research and development, manufacturing, prototype development, and company incubation around the renewable sector. It can become a place where people will produce green-energy technology products and services.”

Earlier in the day, Statoil representatives visited Cianbro in Brewer to view their technical capabilities. Dagher said he believes the Statoil officials have learned that Maine has the industrial base, the expertise, and the commitment to wind power to make a continued partnership beneficial to both parties.

Iberdrola, a company that the governor and Dagher met with on the trade mission, also visited the state recently. Other companies interested in the offshore wind projects have been talking to the Governor’s Office and Dagher.

“Maine will become the place the world comes to for offshore-wind energy technologies,” concluded Dagher.