On the winds of change: Maine is the first state to move into offshore wind development

By Ramona du Houx - January 3rd, 2010 

Robert Marvinney, State Geologist and Dr. Dagher or UMaine talk to Gov. Bladacci about the offshore wind tests.
Robert Marvinney, State Geologist and Dr. Dagher or UMaine talk to Gov. Bladacci about the offshore wind tests. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine took another big step in becoming the first state to create offshore wind test and demonstration sites. During a press conference at the Statehouse, government officials and researches announced three sites where offshore wind prototypes will be constructed. The first of which will begin construction late in 2010.

According to Dr. Habib Dagher, director of UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, Maine could generate electrical energy from offshore wind equivalent to 149 nuclear power plants. The offshore wind potential of 100 gigawatts is three to four times the current peak demand for all of New England.

That’s a lot of energy, more than enough to power Maine homes and businesses with electrical heat and lights, as well as export it to New England and Canadian markets.

“Maine has great potential to be the leader in offshore wind development, and the selection of the demonstration sites is an important step toward that goal,” said Governor John Baldacci. “This is about economic development, environmental protection, and national security. This is important. It’s about all of our futures.”

Dr. Dagher said, “Our vision is to put Maine in front of the country and the world in the development of offshore wind power.”

The governor said there is strong interest in the private sector for using the test sites and that numerous companies have already contacted his office. Interested companies must undergo an extensive permitting process to be selected, and Dagher said UMaine will hold competitions for the proposals. The DeepCwind Consortium, which is working with Dagher, already includes about 30 businesses and organizations interested in this project.

According to Dagher, ever since the university won, against 42 competitors, a federal Department of Energy grant for $8 million to create the Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Center, his phone began to ring with interested companies that want to be a part of this effort. “I have calls coming in so fast from companies in Maine and all over the country. People really see the importance of this,” he said.

The grant will go toward the development of the site off Monhegan Island, just 25 miles off Maine’s Midcoast, in an effort led by Dr. Dagher and his team at UMaine. The process will require future investments from the state, and there will be a bond proposal for it on the June ballot.

“This will be a key investment. This is one area where we know we can grow the state’s economy. Maine has a unique opportunity with wind development that we can’t afford to loose,” said the governor.

Statoil, a Norwegian company, developed the world’s only prototype offshore wind turbine, which Dagher and the governor saw in the North Sea. Statoil signed an agreement with UMaine and the state to help with Maine’s offshore wind test sites. This partnership was key in obtaining the DOE grant. The Norwegian company’s technology will be utilized at the offshore Monhegan Island site.

“Offshore wind development offers the most potential for Maine’s energy future,” said Dr. Dagher, as he explained the offshore wind development plan, beginning with the test sites identified
“Offshore wind development offers the most potential for Maine’s energy future,” said Dr. Dagher, as he explained the offshore wind development plan, beginning with the test sites identified.
Photo by Ramona du Houx

Monhegan Island recently approved a potential community wind project, modeled after the Fox Island cooperative on Vinalhaven.

“The Monhegan community was very supportive of the test site. They are looking at additional ways to make a living,” said Kathleen Leyden of the State Planning Office, the state agency along with the Department of Conservation. These state agencies held 40 community meetings near the proposed test sites, over the last four months, talking with fishermen, citizens, and local officials.

For fisherman worried about the disruption of the sites may have to their fishing grounds the governor said, “I want them to benefit from this. They should get a monthly or yearly payment (after commercialization). Ground fishing and lobstering have been having a hard time. This could help them diversify.”

Accordingly, a provision would be included into a bill to be introduced next session about offshore commercial wind sites. “This maybe be part of a trust fund,” said Leyden.

The other two sites off Damariscove Island near Boothbay and off Boon Island near York will be open for the private industry testing of two turbine designs, each for five years.

The UMaine site will be active for up to seven years. Dagher said he intends to erect three towers of different designs, looking for the best design that can endure the natural forces of the ocean for the lowest cost.

“We will be looking to see if it’s feasible to build the towers out of composites, making them more durable, weather resistant, and lighter, which would lower costs. Wind power is competitive with oil. Right now wind energy in Europe is driving down the cost of electricity,” said Dagher. “Offshore wind development offers the most potential for Maine’s energy is future.”

All three sites measure between one and two square miles and are in Maine’s territorial waters, permitted by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Once a prototype has been tested to satisfaction, it would then be commercialized further out in deep-ocean federal waters. Located ten to twenty miles offshore, they will be beyond the horizon — out of sight and sound. The prototypes will be around 100 feet high; commercial wind turbines are estimated to be 300 feet.

In addition to wind research, all the sites can be used to test new wave-energy technology.