Gov. John Baldacci: Maine’s energy future

In an exclusive interview Governor John E. Baldacci discussed the importance of wind energy and Maine’s future.

Photos and Interview By Ramona du Houx -January 3rd, 2010 

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Ocean wind energy—

How important is deep ocean wind energy to Maine’s overall renewable energy plans?

“I truly believe that deep ocean wind will be the major resource of domestic renewable energy, for our region. We have a tremendous opportunity before us to export this resource to our region, and met our energy needs.

“Deep-sea ocean wind energy is the future. When I went to Norway and saw their floating wind turbine it stood before us, like the Washington Monument, my immediate reaction was to say, ‘this is the future.’ We have consistently strong winds offshore producing enough energy to power 149 nuclear power plants.

“We also have land-based wind energy, tidal, solar, wood, and energy-efficiency measures that will wean us off of importing foreign oil, while creating thousands of jobs that are good for the environment. This will turn our economy around; we’ll create jobs, instead of losing them because of inflated prices for oil from OPEC and other nations. And we will reclaim our energy independence.

“This is a national security, environmental security, and an economic development issue. It’s Maine’s security in the global economy.

“We need to act. We can’t be in a situation where our young men and women are being exposed to danger and sacrificing their lives because of foreign oil. That’s not what this country is all about.”

In November representatives from the Norwegian company that has the world’s first offshore wind prototype, Statoil, visited Maine after you invited them during your visit. What do you think their impressions were?

“Statoil is the company that is leading the world in deep-sea, wind-energy technology. When we went to Norway, we told them that they would like Maine, and the people of Maine. At the Blaine House reception Sjur Bratland said to me, ‘Governor you were right, right about the people, the location and opportunities.’ Frankly, we couldn’t have felt any better.

“We rolled out the red carpet. When you are dealing with counties like Norway, who have cutting-edge technologies that can help your economy, you want to get off on the right foot.”

*In October UMaine was awarded an $8-million grant from the Department of Energy. It was the only grant given to a state specifically for offshore, wind-technology research and development. How did working with the Norwegian’s facilitate the grant?

“The commitment from Statoil and UMaine to work together enabled UMaine to get the DOE research and development grant and recognition as the deep-sea research source. That was a major first step. There is a long-term program here for economic development.

“We will have the ability to manufacture windmill component parts, windmill blades, erect windmill platforms offshore, and work on a windmill research platform out in the Midcoast. It’s huge. We will be the go-to place for offshore wind development expertise, for the world.

“It means jobs for Maine contractors like Reed & Reed, Cianbro, Bath Iron Works, and others. Then there is the opportunity for more training in composites and engineering at Brunswick Naval Air Station with the Southern Maine Community College, and UMaine.”

Three offshore wind demonstration sites have been located off the coast, which was part of the agreement with Statoil. What else needs to be done?

“There will be a bond issue this June on the ballot, to continue the process to develop our deep-sea wind offshore sites. As difficult as the budget is, we are going to work together to make sure we are able to make an investment in UMaine to build these demonstration sites. This is an investment in Maine’s green energy future. To grow our economy we have to make key investments for all our futures.”

Some are asking, if we have the companies to build these sites, why should we continue to work with Statoil?

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“Statoil has the expertise in doing this. If we didn’t seek to form an alliance, we would have had to start from scratch with an incremental baby-step approach to get to a full-scale platform anchored off the coast operating efficiently.

“We will be able to use all of their years of experience, expense and expertise, and leapfrog that timeframe to get to where we need to be, now. We want to continue to have them with us. It will be Maine companies and people building the windmills, working with Statoil in a collaborative effort to get this done.”

Are there other companies interested?

“There are a number of companies that are interested in the two demonstration offshore sites that are available for commercial testing. Statoil will work collaboratively with UMaine on the test site designated for university research and development.

“The other potential companies have made it clear that their interest is not only in the research side, they want to develop the technologies as well.”

After the demonstration platforms are up and running and tested over time, a 25-megawatt demonstration-floating farm, in federal waters, will be built. We’re not talking about next year—

“For the demonstration test turbines, we are. The plan calls for construction to start next year. The University will have their test turbines up by 2011. The long-term plan calls for 5 gigawatts of wind energy for $20 billion dollars for a 20-year investment, which will provide 15,000 jobs. Half of those jobs will be manufacturing windmill blades. The other half will be maintaining these sites.

“The plan also has electric heat pumps, eclectic cars, and much more as the increased demand for electricity grows. It’s a plan for Maine’s future, developed by Prof. Habib Dagher that is geared to deep-sea wind. We will be able to achieve it with our own resources, creating homegrown jobs. As we move forward, Habib’s research and vision will become Maine’s vision.”

When the representatives of Statoil visited you and Prof. Dagher took them on a tour of Maine’s manufacturing and educational infrastructure, which would be able to handle all the various stages of deep-sea wind development. By helicopter you viewed potential wind-development sites. Do you think Statoil saw Maine’s potential for offshore wind development?

“When we were in Norway, we saw their infrastructure; their land level facility, the windmill site in the North Sea, and the on going research and development. It was clear to us we had the assets to accomplish what they had, not all in one place, but we had them in key locations.

“We are looking at networking our assets, like we do in Maine. We have the composite technologies, which will make windmills stronger and more durable, at UMaine. Cianbro, in Brewer, manufactures modules. Their engineering expertise translates well to wind-farm development, along with their warehouse, maintenance, and launching facilities. And Bath Iron Works’ manufacturing capabilities are world-renowned; they could help launch the platforms and maintain them with specialized ships they would build. The windmills could be built in former hangers at Brunswick Navel Air Station, where the needed engineers and technicians could be educated as well.

“We can’t do it all at one site. We showed Statoil that we have a comparable or better ability to do what is necessary.

What about the fishermen concerned that offshore wind will hurt the industry?

“I want this to benefit them. Ground fishermen have had it hard recently, and lobster prices dropped with the recession. They, and I am, concerned about loosing their way of life that has existed for generations. They need another source of income. We’re working to make sure they receive benefits from off shore wind development, in the form of a monthly or yearly payment. We’re working on that internally. It will be part of legislation, put forward next session.”

Community wind —

Rep. Hannah Pingree, Gov. Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, George Baker, and students celebrate the largest community wind development in NE on Vinalhaven.
Rep. Hannah Pingree, Gov. Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, George Baker, and students celebrate the largest community wind development in NE on Vinalhaven.
Fox Islands Electric Cooperative with Vinalhaven and New Haven is the largest community-owned wind project on the East Coast. Why are community-based projects something you’re promoting, when we have large windmill developments online and under construction, as well as offshore projects planned?

“Building community wind farms will help communities become more energy independent and in time could bring in additional revenue. Sue Jones of Maine’s small wind initiative is helping community wind projects grow throughout the state.

“Farmers in Fort Fairfield are working with the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture to establish their own co-op. This will help them develop the same kind of community wind project that is up and running on Vinalhaven.

“The farmers see they have an opportunity to create their own power at half the rate that they are being charged. They can reduce payments to their own eclectic bills. So they become the electric company themselves.

“George Baker, the CEO on Vinalhaven, is looking to do the same thing on Mohegan Island, which just voted in favor of a wind island community project. I’m excited about that effort and what we are doing on the islands.”

What can the State do to help community wind projects?

“Our Department of Environmental Protection’s application process needs to be changed. It’s set up for large, industrial wind sites. These are smaller projects; the same standard needs to be maintained, but the application needs to be simplified and made a lot more affordable to farmers, communities, and individuals.

“I’ll be working with the Legislature to help refine that process.”

How does wind energy help Maine ratepayers?

“Wind is an endless natural resource that is beneficial for Maine ratepayers.

“Wind energy itself is displacing oil- and gas-fired electricity in the pecking order at the Public Utilities Commission. Seventy-five percent of your electrical bill is the cost of creating the energy for electricity. Oil and gas is the highest rung. So, the more wind energy you use, you displace oil and gas. And you help to stabilize any increases. Over time Maine’s eclectic charges will decrease substantially because of wind-energy development.

Fox Islands Electric Cooperative community wind turbines on Vinalhaven. “Building community wind farms will help communities become more energy independent and in time could bring in additional revenue,” said Baldacci
Fox Islands Electric Cooperative community wind turbines on Vinalhaven. “Building community wind farms will help communities become more energy independent and in time could bring in additional revenue,” said Baldacci

“The property taxes that wind farms are charged help reduce residential property taxes. Some of these funds go to projects communities want to do, but never had the revenue base before to accomplish them.

“The companies that build the windmills need workers to maintain them. They need the support of the local communities for goods and services, which helps with economic development. And many of these companies contribute to community projects.

“More renewable-energy investments means more economic development, which helps create new businesses and grows our businesses.”

Education —

You transitioned Maine’s technical colleges into community colleges when you first came to office. Thousands of students have since enrolled and gained degrees, with many earning BAs from the University of Maine after transferring their credits. You’re talking about transitioning the economy to a green-energy economy. To do that successfully, we need skilled workers. Do we have enough educational opportunities available for people wishing to earn incomes in the energy field?

“Community colleges are critical avenues to receive training in energy efforts. The Composites Alliance has been vitally important, empowering the curriculum in the community colleges. Maine’s Composites Alliance has partnered with SMCC and is teaching composite techniques that will be needed in wind-power manufacturing and maintenance. Other community colleges have specialized in weatherization, transmitting the training via the ATM system. Northern Maine Community College now offers a degree in wind-energy. Training in safety and composite maintenance is also ongoing. The collaboration with UMaine and SMCC at BNAS is geared for this.

“At the end of the day the thing that will better empower peoples futures is to give them the ability to have a good education and to be able to continue their education with new skills. That’s how they will be able to get better-paying jobs and benefits. I think we have been focused on that.”

Transmission lines —

Proposed transmission lines that would export clean electrical energy to the northeastern market are essential. Maine has a proposal to the federal government to have a transmission corridor through the state that would run from the northeastern Canadian provinces to New England markets. What is the transmission line update?

“There are two issues that need to be addressed. One is that we need to change the way transmission lines are presently set up, to make sure that if we have a brownout or a blackout, businesses, home owners, and families will have electricity and heat. The other is to make transmission lines accessible for offshore wind energy and wind energy that is being developed in Maine’s northern areas.

“The Green Line being developed in Wiscasset uses the old Maine Yankee lines to run an underwater cable from there to the Boston market. Then there is the transmission corridor that runs along Interstate 95. We are working with Bangor Hydro to use that network. That way revenues with lease agreements can be made, which in turn can help people weatherize homes and businesses.

“Wind companies and community wind projects have come to realize that they can’t wait for someone else to pay for the transmission. Some have decided to make transmission part of the cost of the product.”

The Midwestern states have a proposal that would cut off Maine and usurp the transmission corridor with their own, which would be coal based. North America’s largest utility company, Hydro Quebec, has purchased the transmission lines of New Brunswick Power. What does all this mean with regard to Maine and transmission access?

“We’re looking for opportunities with Hydro Quebec to use hydropower as a base power along with wind energy. This would enable us to showcase how our product would not need the coal-fired plants that the Midwest would use for their base to power their wind.”

Are you concerned that Hydro Quebec is now a monopoly?

“We will be meeting with Hydro Quebec over New Brunswick energy. That’s a discussion we will have to engage in. We need to welcome them, at the same time make sure there are checks and balances, so that electrical prices that will go down don’t jump back up because they are a monopoly.

“Transmission is critical. The legislative taskforce has made progress. The majority recognizes they can’t say no to everything; at the same time we need to make sure we strike a good deal for the citizens of Maine. Now it’s up to the Legislative Utilities Committee.

“We have a wonderful location. We are in the middle of everything. It’s all about location, location, location. There are real opportunities here.

“By harnessing all these energy resources, we will help people be warm, safe and secure in their homes. It will help businesses being more energy efficient, so they are spending less for energy, and we will grow our economy.”

Over 250 people gathered to celebrate the start-up of TransCanada’s $320-million Kibby Wind Power Project.
Over 250 people gathered to celebrate the start-up of TransCanada’s $320-million Kibby Wind Power Project.

What do you think about being remembered the most for your work in a green-energy economy?

“I get very passionate about Civil Rights — individual rights. The next issue I’m passionate about is energy. We have put ourselves in a box as a country and state, being overly dependent for our whole economy on other counties for oil. Some of these nations don’t have our interest at heart and actually use the money to help fund terrorism. This is about our national security, economic independence, and creating good-paying jobs. We need to get off the oil habit and stop the degradation of the environment. Anything we can do to get off oil, I am passionate about.

“If I can be remembered for contributing to making Maine more energy efficient and energy independent then I feel I would be honored and humbled with that recognition.

“We’ve got more work to be done. In the session coming up, we will be working on making it easier for community wind projects. So, farmers, small landowners, islanders, communities, and towns can have a better opportunity to become clean-energy producers.

“Maine’s potential energy mix is great. Besides wind, we’ve got wood, tidal, and solar. We could be an energy powerhouse for the region; we could feed energy to Canada and the Northeast, working with our Canadian counterparts, to give those markets all the renewable energy they will ever need. We have a wonderful opportunity.”