Growing wind energy in Maine

By Ramona du Houx

October 25th, 2009 

Over 300 people attended the state’s first wind-energy conference, which covered small, medium, and large-scale wind development last October.

Participants were encouraged by the progress and leadership Maine is taking in the development of in this energy resource and transmission. Governor Baldacci’s vision is for Maine to be come an electrical-energy exporter to New England. Ideally, wind-component development, with the assistance of UMaine’s Composite Center, will enable businesses to manufacture windmills in the state. Then these state-of-the-art windmills will be erected offshore and on land. Community wind would also be developed, as well as large-scale wind development continuing. All these areas require a lot of stakeholders working together.

“In order for the state to receive the maximum benefit from wind energy, Maine businesses must be part of the research and development, design, financing, manufacturing, deployment, operations, and maintenance of renewable energy systems, as well as the distribution of energy,” said Catherine Renault, director of the Office of Innovation.

The conference successfully brought these various companies, educational institutes, state and federal agencies together to network.

A consortium that attended the conference, the Maine Wind Industry Initiative, is working to engage all of these stakeholders.

“MWII now represents over 50 company members, which include composites, engineering, environmental, financial, legal, construction, marine construction, developers, ocean-energy development, research, state agencies, utilities, and boat building,” said Paul Williamson of MWII.

In his presentation before the conference attendees, Governor John Baldacci said that much of the ultimate success of wind-energy development hinges on partnerships with and among Maine communities. He said medium-size wind developments are now taking place. The Town of Oakfield is developing a 34-turbine wind farm, and the Fox Island Wind project on Vinalhaven is near completion.

Sue Jones, who organized the conference, is working with Aroostook County farmers, the USDA Rural Development, and the State to help farmers begin to farm wind power. Fishermen could also benefit from offshore wind development.

Kirk A. Nadeau of KEAN Project Engineering said, “This conference gives us a platform to inform and communicate that wind energy allows small communities to become independent from the grid, and they can sell excess electric energy to the grid.”

Nadeau’s company plans to put up turbines to power communities.

The comprehensive conference included presentations exploring options, examples, and potential solutions to challenges in promoting wind-energy development. Some breakout sessions talked about financing wind projects of various sizes, discussed innovations in transmission, and Maine’s new community energy pilot program.

Over 35 speakers made presentations.