Maine offshore floating wind farm moves closer to reality

Application submitted for floating wind turbine project south of Boothbay

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

December 10th, 2011

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State and federal members of the Maine Task Force of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management met in December as part of the review process concerning a federal lease application for a pilot-scale wind power project in deep water south of Boothbay in South Portland. The applicant, Statoil is a Norwegian-based company that has been working with UMaine to progress offshore floating wind platform technology.

“Statoil’s $200 million project would keep us in the game,” said Dr. Habib Dagher, lead on the project at UMaine. “If this moves forward Maine will have the first floating wind farm— in the world. And we will become the go-to-center for information on these technologies— a center for excellence.”

If the four-turbine project wins approvals and the developer goes forward, it could be operating in 2016 and generate as much as 12 megawatts, which would power about 18,000 homes. Statoil’s proposal, called Hywind Maine, could be a major step in Maine’s offshore wind development plans—worth billions to the state’s economy.

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Statoil’s test offshore floating wind turbine Courtesy photo

In 2009, Statoil erected the world’s first floating wind turbine off the coast of Norway. Soon after Dagher along with a Maine delegation, which included Governor John Baldacci, toured the Norwegian operation and viewed the floating turbine from a boat. Then Statoil and UMaine signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on the development of offshore wind technology. The Statoil Maine project would be the largest floating turbine project in the world.

Four test sites have approved by the state off Maine’s shores. UMaine is starting with a small-scale test model off Monhegan Island in 2012 generating 25 megawatts by 2016 which would power 37,000 homes. By 2030 commercial-scale wind farms will be erected and be supplying more than enough electricity for Maine’s needs – exporting the rest to the hungry Boston market. The economic benefit to Maine could be huge with jobs and industries created.

Maine’s deep waters are considered a prime location for offshore turbines because of unlimited consistent strong winds and the close proximity to urban centers like Boston. Governor Baldacci worked with regional states and the Canadian provinces to implement initiatives that would strategically benefit the area by maximizing the strengths of wind energy, and other, energy resources. This set the stage for the needed connections to get all the offshore wind, which will be farmed at least 10 nautical miles from shore in water more than 400 feet deep, to market.

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Gov. John Baldacci pushed for the offshore floating wind farm project clearing the way with regulations in Maine, building regional and international commitments, and securing grants. graphic by R. du Houx

In 2010 Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited UMaine to see the beginnings of a test center for offshore wind energy being built partially with a $8 million Recovery Act grant from the DoE. At that time he meet with Governor Baldacci, scientists and a host of Maine businesses of the DeepCWind Consortium, who are involved in the project.

A UMaine study last year, also funded by a $5 million DoD, concluded that in 2020 it will be possible to generate power in the 10-cent-per-kilowatt range, on par with conventional sources. That feasibility report confirms offshore wind’s viability as a key cost effective energy source.

Offshore wind floating turbines need to be constructed nearby the area they will be erected. It is not an import industry which means companies like Bath Iron Works, Cianbro, and Reed and Reed who have been working in this area of expertise will benefit— and so will Maine’s skilled workers and the economy. Maine also can export its expertise around the world.