FERC’s 2011 provision is a boost for Maine’s wind, water, and wave industries

FERC has to take into account state renewable-energy mandates, which makes a new energy transmission line for New England realistic

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

June 5th, 2012 


Statoil’s, test offshore floating wind turbine. Statoil is working with UMaine sharing technology for the first floating wind farms off the coast of Maine. This year UMaine will deploy America’s first prototype floating wind platform off Monhegan Island.

Maine sends $5 billion a year out of state to pay for oil and gasoline, much of which could be kept here if the state continues to develop a diverse alternative energy portfolio. Offshore wind and tidal energy are two key technologies that use Maine’s natural resources, which can lessen the state’s dependency on oil.

“Maine’s wave and tidal current resources offer real opportunities to generate renewable energy using water-power technologies in the future,” said Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu, referring to two DOE reports. “Together with new advances and innovations in water-power technologies, these resource assessments can help to further develop the country’s significant ocean energy resources, create new industries and new jobs in America, and secure U.S. leadership in an emerging global market.”

The two reports, Mapping and Assessment of the United States Ocean Wave Energy Resource and Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Tidal Streams in the United States, calculate the maximum kinetic energy available from waves and tides off U.S. Coastal areas south of Eastport and south of Cross Island. Maine’s tides could generate up to 675 megawatts of power.

These assessments can help to further develop Maine’s ongoing efforts in tidal and wave technologies, create new jobs and secure Maine’s world leadership in this new industry, with companies like Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) and with the University of Maine.


Maine’s tides could generate up to 675 megawatts of power. Companies like Ocean Renewable Power Company plans to install its full-scale tidal turbine unit, modeled on this design, in Cobscook Bay off Eastport over the next two years. UMaine composite researchers worked with ORPC to build the unit. photo by Ramona du Houx

ORPC plans to install its full-scale tidal turbine unit in Cobscook Bay off Eastport over the next two years. Another company, Tidewalker Associates, is seeking investors for a tidal-power project off Eastport.

The DOE estimates that the maximum theoretical electric generation that could be produced from waves and tidal currents off America’s coasts is approximately 1,420 terawatt hours per year, one-third of the nation’s total annual electricity usage.

“There is enough there to meet up to one-third of the country’s energy needs — and he [Secretary Chu] singled out Maine’s great potential,” said Pingree on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, when the reports were released.

The other great area for clean energy production at sea off the coast of Maine — is wind. And Maine is moving forward with plans for the world’s first floating wind farm.

New England’s best winds are off the coast of Maine, which is considered an unlimited resource. John Kerry, director of the Office of Energy Independence and Security during the Baldacci administration, stated in a news article in Maine Insights, “We have over 100,000 megawatts of wind-power potential just off the Gulf of Maine.”

“Offshore wind holds incredible potential for our country, and we’re moving full-steam ahead to accelerate the siting, leasing, and construction of new projects,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, when he announced the Smart from the Start wind-energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. Smart from the Start began to facilitate the construction of new projects in 2010. Before then, leasing had been unnecessarily bogged down, while oil platforms sprang up like dandelions. The new streamlined federal leasing strengthens the confidence of potential investors in offshore wind to move forward. And the Norwegian power company Statoil has taken action.

Pingree spoke to Congress about Statoil’s intention to build a pilot project of floating wind turbines off the coast near Boothbay. This project is directly connected to the research being conducted at UMaine in Orono, as Statoil and the university signed a memorandum of understanding to share the research.

“Experts say up to 15,000 jobs can be created in my state by offshore wind — good paying American jobs that will help us regain our energy independence,” said Pingree.

One of those experts is Dr. Habib Dagher, who is leading the offshore wind effort based at UMaine. In 2009 Dr. Chu along with Governor John Baldacci and the congressional delegation visited Dr. Habib’s composite laboratory at UMaine, where the research for offshore wind floating platforms is underway. The visit resulted in DOE grants for the project.

Dagher said, “There is unlimited wind off our coasts, and we are developing the technology to bring it to Maine and beyond. We need to become less dependent on foreign oil. The $20 billion project to build a floating wind farm 20 miles offshore will allow the state to sell electricity to our neighbors. We’ll export it. The potential is huge.”

This year Dagher and his UMaine team will deploy America’s first prototype floating wind platform off Monhegan Island. Environmental monitoring of the site is underway. In Phase Two of the project, a full-scale model — 300 feet to the platform hub — will be built and deployed by 2014.

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

Mainer’s use about 3,000 megawatts. Maine’s floating offshore wind-farm plan would produce 5,000 megawatts by 2030, enough energy to power an estimated 1.5 million households, annually.

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. But some investors remain cautious, wondering how they will get the energy to market. Without a transmission line able to accommodate the increase in electricity, investing in wind farms could be futile.


Electric power transmission lines photo by Ramona du Houx

In 2011 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) created a new provision in its rules to help determine what criteria the commission must examine to decide where to construct electrical transmission lines. That provision reviews state renewable-energy mandates. FERC managers have to calculate these mandates into their review to help states meet policy goals of increasing renewable-power use. Until this provision, grid managers who plan transmission projects have focused almost exclusively on “reliability” — whether projects would help keep power flowing when demand is high. These new FERC requirements have created a need for more renewable power.

Massachusetts must get 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. New Hampshire must obtain about 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Since 2006, Maine’s renewable energy standard mandates that 40 percent must come from renewable energy sources by 2017— 40 percent. In addition there are three mandates for wind-energy development in Maine:

1. At least 2,000 MW of installed capacity by 2015
2. At least 3,000 MW of installed capacity by 2020, of which there is a potential to produce 300 MW from facilities located in coastal waters or offshore
3. At least 8,000 MW of installed capacity by 2030, of which 5,000 MW should be from facilities in coastal waters or offshore

The first two goals were established in April 2008 (LD 2283), and the third was established in April 2010 (LD 1810).

This FERC provision should also make it easier to construct a national New England transmission line to export electrical energy throughout the Northeastern energy market. This federal order could help the Maine realize its offshore wind potential.

The New England states are among 32 nationwide that set voluntary goals; some like Maine are mandatory standards to increase reliance on renewable energy sources. Much of this work in New England was set in motion by the Baldacci administration. Governor Baldacci worked with the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) extensively on this issue. In 2008 they attended a summit in Bar Harbor that Baldacci hosted specifically to discuss alternative energy in the region. These leaders set goals and signed memorandums of understanding to continue to have their states and provinces work together to transform the region into an alternative-energy hub — making all residents less dependent on oil and building economic activity.

During the 2011–2012 legislative session, Governor Paul LePage tried to weaken Maine’s renewable-energy standards, which could have damaged the state’s heightened standing with FERC. The state legislative Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology understood the negative implications of LePage’s proposal and upheld Maine’s renewable-energy standards, thus encouraging clean-energy producers and investors.

With the new federal order, building transmission lines isn’t only about “reliability” anymore, but includes renewable-energy mandates. This means building the grid to get Maine’s offshore wind to market has become more of a realistic priority for the federal government. ISO New England, managers, and regulators should focus more than ever on reaching that offshore wind renewable power.

The potential for a New England gird got some powerful backers with FERC’s new requirement order. More investors will feel confident about Maine’s offshore wind and tidal projects.