Maine's Alternative Energy Trade Mission: In Germany

By, Paul Williamson Maine Wind Industry Initiative Coordinator and Special Project Development for the Maine Composites Alliance - September 29th, 2009 · 

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As you approach Bremen from air it is readily apparent that this area has fully embraced wind energy. The outer areas are lined with larger wind farms of several dozen turbines. Smaller installations of two to three turbines are scattered within the city limits, among homes, industrial areas and farms.

Bremen is a city state that includes the Bremen city center, the port city of Bremerhaven, and surrounding areas. The region has a mixture of agricultural, industrial, fishing, and shipping activities. Like the American counterparts to these industries, they have suffered declines in the recent decades and the region is exploring alternative industries to make up the economic gap.
The mix of industry and agriculture reflects the European approach to efficient use of land, with farming practices running right to the urban edge. As we exited the plane the aroma of dairy farms was familiar to the Maine delegation. However it seemed a contradiction to travel throughout the hustle and bustle of the city regions with that atmosphere always present.

Thursday morning the delegation of Maine political and industrial representatives left Bremen for Bremerhaven (about an 40 minute bus ride) to tour the investment into establishing major offshore wind power. This morning we were joined by Dr. Habib Dagher from the University of Maine AEWC research center, which was very appropriate due to Dr. Dagher’s leadership in exploration for offshore wind development in Maine.

Bremerhaven is a successful model of clustering the full supply chain for offshore wind energy development. The Power Blade manufacturing Plant is located at the head of a shipping cay, the RE Power 5 & 6 MW Turbine assembly plant is located next in line, then further down the same cay they are producing the huge offshore steel tower foundations. Research and development are also located nearby, with a testing facility for 70 meter blades nearby; and spaces dedicated for a 100 meter blade testing facility. Right around the corner is a state of the art wind tunnel.

All of this cluster makes perfect sense when considering the sizes of the products being produced. The RE Power 5 & 6 MW turbines are the largest currently installed in the world (there is a 10 MW turbine in production in the UK). These turbines fully assembled are approximately the size of a typical American ranch house. The blades for the turbines are currently 65 meters long, and the expectation is that they will be getting longer.

The Maine Delegation left the region that afternoon with mixed emotions. It was obvious that we have all the talent and skill to establish this type of industrial production in Maine. Our industries have all done these types of projects before. Doing so will employ thousands of skilled workers and create a completely new economy for the state. But where are we going to get the investment required to pull off this kind of a project?

My final full day in Germany was spent traveling with Wayne Kilcollins from Northern Maine Community College. We visited several
Newly established schools dedicated to certifying people for wind power jobs. These schools focus on providing the foundation of knowledge of turbine mechanics, electrical, and composite technologies. A great emphasis is placed on safety practices working at high altitudes and learning to deal with emergency situations in these settings. Students with some technical education from high school or previous professional experience go through the consolidated program in six months. The demand for skilled certified workers is currently greater than what the schools can produce.

The University of Bremerhaven has a composite engineering program, very much like the University of Maine, although not quite as robust in the area of practical application. This program has a tight relationship with the surrounding industry. Students spend some of their time while studying also working for or doing research for the industry. The day before we had met a young lady from the engineering program who was working with the wind tunnel we had visited.

As we left Bremen the fallowing day I am truly impressed by the organized commitment that the region has made to wind power development. The rapid establishment of this new industry base is remarkable, and it is obvious that it requires the full integration at all levels. During my last train ride returning from Bremerhaven, I asked a nearby rider what they thought of the wind power development. They did note that when it first started earlier in the decade that people were uncertain, and sometimes disagreeable. But now the wind mills that scatter the landscape are a normal part of everyday life, and local people are proud of their leadership in renewable energy resources for the world economy.

We can do this in Maine. I recently spoke with a group of Maine leaders and I stated that I did not believe that creating this new way of life and economy in Maine represents a vision as much as it represents a future reality. I know we have the ability to be US leaders in offshore development. Some of that ability may be applied to providing structures and vessels for offshore development in other states with shallow waters. Some of that activity will move us towards realizing the abundance of energy that we have off of our own rugged coast. It is going to require a fully integrated investment from all parts of our society.

Just picture our state 10 years from now exporting clean energy to other states, exporting products to the world for generating clean energy, being in control of our own energy needs, rather than letting people from other worlds controlling how we move, work and heat our homes. It is exciting to think about, and pretty darn scary to imagine the leaps we are going to have to take to get from here to there. This is a time for Maine to show the courage that will build a new world of opportunities for our children.

Paul Williamson
Maine Wind Industry Initiative Coordinator and
Special Project Development for the Maine Composites Alliance