Energy Secretary Chu – impressed with Maine’s research and development projects

The Nobel Prize physicists visit should help with future investments for offshore wind

Dr. Dagher explains Maine's plan for offshore wind to DOE Sec. Chu and Gov. John Baldacci. Photo by Ramona du Houx
During U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visit to Maine, in June, he specifically saw the state’s progress in developing the technology and business expertise that is hoped would enable the state to become the world’s leader in floating offshore wind farm development.

“Impressed,” was Chu’s official proclamation of the work being conducted at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (AEWC) center where the wind technology is being developed.

“Maine is a national leader in the development of clean, renewable and home-grown energy,” said Governor John Baldacci. “Secretary Chu’s visit recognizes the intense commitment and broad-based support behind renewable energy development in Maine. We have some of our best companies working with the UMO research and development team. Maine can do great things in energy as well as do great things for the rest of the country.”

The Director of the center, Professor Habib Dagher, led Chu on a tour of AEWC, along with Governor Baldacci, Senator Susan Collins, US Rep. Mike Michaud, and US Rep. Chellie Pingree.

The Energy Secretary is a physicist and Nobel Peace prizewinner. His enthusiastic endorsement of the AEWC center’s progress is important to industry investors.

“What is being done here, at this multi facetted center, is impressive,” said Chu. “I’m particularly impressed by the leadership Maine has shown in working to grow a global sustainable economy while developing technology for renewable energy, and actually working with companies to get products developed here deployed throughout the U.S., and around the world. It’s a part of the basis for growth in Maine’s economy.”

Chu’s visit energized off shore wind supporters. It also serves to help the next stage of development– securing investment for the nation’s first offshore floating platform.

Dr. Dagher explains more about Maine's offshore wind long term plan to DOE Secretary Chu and the Congressional Delegation. The plan could bring 15,000 jobs per year to the state. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“The next step is finding that $60 million investment,” said Dagher. The state and the university will seek bids this September to build the world’s first floating wind farm, in federal waters off the Maine coast.

It has been just a year since Governor Baldacci, the Congressional Delegation, and Dagher met in Washington D.C. to discuss Maine’s offshore wind potential with Sec. Chu. During that meeting the Energy Secretary suggested the Maine Delegation visit Norway to view the world’s first floating offshore wind turbine. That idea was heeded. The Governor led a trade mission to Europe focused on wind power with a special excursion to Norway. There he, Congressional staffers, and Dagher viewed Norway’s floating wind tower, braving the North Sea. There they established a relationship sealed with an agreement to share technologies with Statoil, the company that built the wind turbine.

The nation’s top energy man helped get the state to where it is today. The Obama Administration has already provided more than $25 million dollars in grants to help develop offshore energy in Maine.

From start to finish of the tour arranged by Sen. Susan Collins, Chu was shown how Maine is developing offshore wind platforms involving different Maine businesses and technologies developed at AEWC.

He was shown the construction of the nation’s first laboratory for manufacturing and testing of blades, towers and other offshore deepwater wind turbine components being built adjacent to the center. The building will be three hundred feet long and sixty feet wide.

The facility will include a large structural testing laboratory complete that will accommodate a 70 meter wind blade for testing. There will additional areas for material and component level testing, and an advanced machining and fabrication shop. It will also include a nanocomposites laboratory, which some components of the windmills will be made from. Recovery Act funds were allocated to help the project.

The AEWC expansion that will house testing facilities for offshore wind blades and component development. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Because of the nature of the research and development being conducted at AEWC the laboratory will be unique in the world.

“Maine will become the go to place for companies and scientists around the world to come and learn about floating offshore wind technology,” said Dagher. “They will have access to our industry expertise and hopefully hire Maine companies for projects— around the globe.”

Maine has a convergence of specialized industries that are ideally suited for building and erecting wind towers. Most of these companies have already worked together putting up land-based wind towers, now they are looking towards the sea. And so are traditional boat builders that have used AEWC composite technology on their hulls, now they are poised to build the windmill blades and components. The combined experience of these businesses working with AEWC gives Maine the expertise that should make offshore floating wind farms a reality.

These companies and institutions, along with AEWC staff had displays that the Energy Secretary was briefed about during the tour. Together they have formed the DeepCwind consortium, and have been promoting Maine to the world at industry conferences and trips. Executives from Cianbro Corp., James W. Sewall Co., Hodgdon Marine Group, Bath Iron Works, Kenway, and First Wind participated in the event.

Environmental, geological, and weather display stations exhibited the additional necessary science that is being conducted to ensure all case scenarios are researched thoroughly.

Sec. Chu, Professor Dagher, Gov. Baldacci, Congressman Michaud, and Sen. Collins listen to a Maine business involved in develping offshore wind. Photo by Ramona du Houx
“I live on an offshore island that just put up the largest community wind farm, which is already reducing energy costs. But the turbines and components had to be shipped in from Europe,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “This is a great opportunity to develop wind power with our traditional boatbuilding industries and manufacturing base. We have the composite technology and expertise here, we can manufacture the turbines and components here creating thousands of jobs.”

Although the technology has yet to be proven, Chu was encouraged by what he saw.

“We know the U.S. has incredible offshore wind sources, we have to plan to allow the optional tapping of those resources,” said Secretary Chu. “I hope these experiments go very well, and it’s shown that floating deep offshore wind platforms are going to be commercially reliable. It will add to the power of our renewables. Demonstrating that these technologies work, and are viable, is the first important step.”

Maine has set a goal of reducing the state’s consumption of liquid fossil fuels by at least 30 percent by 2030. The state already produces 95 percent of New England’s wind energy.

Dr.Dagher shows Sec. Chu the centers transforming bridge technology called the bridge in the backpack. Photo by Ramona du Houx
The energy secretary has set a goal for the US to produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind power by 2030. With most large cities being coastal – offshore wind farms could play a large role, particularly because the energy transmitted wouldn’t have to travel long distances. And partially because offshore wind has been a neglected clean energy resource in America, with a number of businesses waiting to utilize the energy source. Europe has over eight hundred offshore windmills. America has zero.

According to Dagher, Maine has the equalivant of 149 nuclear power plants of energy off our coasts in wind power. That’s a substantial amount of energy to tap into, more than the east coasts current needs.

According to projections made by the federal government the project would create at least 15,000 by 2030. The overall project could attract $20 billion worth of investments, in the state, over the next two decades.

“We get calls from businesses everyday,” said Dagher. “It’s really an opportunity for a generation. The interest is huge.”

So is the overall plan.

In Phase One a 100 foot to the platform hub floating wind turbine prototype will be deployed off Monhegan Island next year. In Phase Two, a 300 foot to the platform hub full-scale model would be built and deployed by 2014.

In Phase Three Dagher refers to as the, “Stepping Stone stage, where we will have the world’s first floating wind farm of five wind-mills. During this stage we will work out any problems so that in the final stages full scale commercial wind farms can be built.”

By 2030, a network of floating farms will be located 20 to 50 miles offshore generating electricity to power Maine, the New England market, and possibly beyond.

The reality of this plan would help to transform Maine’s economy.

Panels with different prototype designs were on display. The design favored by Dagher is at least twice as long in the water giving it the ballast needed to withstand high winds and heavy seas. Stability is key.

What struck Governor Baldacci about Norway’s offshore turbine was how stable it was.
“It stood there like the Washington Monument,” he said.

And the final floating wind towers built in Maine will be taller than that monument at 300 feet above sea level with wind blades of 200 feet. AEWC composite materials will be used to make the blades, “stronger, lighter and more durable,” said Dagher.

The research, education and commercialization plan is designed to make Maine more competitive in the global economy. So is incorporating automation in the process.

“We received a federal grant to help out with our robotics program,” said Dagher. “All the wind blades come from overseas because they have cheaper labor— we can’t compete with that. We can compete successfully with quality and building better blades using robotic technology.”

The Baldacci Administration has been working with Dagher and businesses to progress Maine’s role in the clean energy economy ever since Maine’s offshore wind potential was officially measured.

“Maine people recognize the economic, national security and environmental dangers in reliance on foreign fossil fuels to heat our homes and power our cars,” said Governor Baldacci. “In a recent bond referendum they approved, by sixty percent, funds to help progress the work going on here that will create thousands of new jobs, and translate into cleaner, safer power, putting our state in control of our energy future.”

All offshore wind developers will need permits from the federal Minerals Management Service before they could begin operating. A major reason why America has no offshore wind farms can be attributed to the time it has taken to obtain permits from MMS. While offshore oilrigs have been favored wind energy was put on the back burner. After seven years, Cape Wind in Massachusetts was just permitted.

That process, with the Obama Administration, is changing.

In June Maine signed an agreement with nine other states and the U.S. Department of Interior to establish the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium to work to streamline the review and siting process for offshore wind projects in U.S. waters. One goal of the group is to get the permitting process down to three years.

Energy Sec. Chu and Governor John Baldacci at the press conference on offshore wind develpment in Maine. Chu was "impressed." Photo by Ramona du Houx

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could strengthen the role of clean energy in America’s future.

John Kerry, Director of Maine’s Office of Energy, Security, and Independence said, “Maine was recognized for being a leader in the nation, and the world developing the technologies that will help us become energy independent. The oil spill will have people taking a second look at using fossil fuels, natural gas and shale as energy sources. People will look to alternative clean energy sources as reliable long term solutions.”

“The Gulf tragedy tells us that we as a nation need a comprehensive energy strategy,” said Chu.

The Energy Secretary commented on the state’s leadership in bringing everyone together for alternative energy and energy efficiency projects.

“I’m also impressed in the way everyone works together in this state, in a nonpartisan way,” said Chu.

After a meeting with the Energy Secretary, Dagher commented, “It was enlightening and humbling experience to have Secretary Chu visit. We are all excited. I have a good feeling coming out of the meetings.”