The Maine Public Utility Commission (PUC) has approved a project proposal by Statoil to build a $120 million deepwater wind turbine demonstration project off the coast of Boothby Harbor, in the Gulf of Maine.
“This begins to establish Maine as the worldwide center on renewable energy with a strong focus on off-shore wind energy,” said Former Governor John Baldacci.
Baldacci and Dr. Habib Dagher of the University of Maine toured the world’s first floating offshore wind turbine off the Norwegian Coast in 2009, designed by Statoil. This Hywind project has exceeded performance goals surviving 50-foot waves and hurricane-force winds. On that overseas trade mission trip, to promote alternative energy technologies happening in Maine, a Memorandum of Understanding to share technologies developed for floating offshore wind farms was signed by Dagher with Statoil. Since then Dagher’s team of engineers and researchers have developed their own floating offshore wind turbine designs at UMaine’s composite laboratory. The partnership, sharing knowledge, has proven very valuable to UMaine and the state as UMaine is proceeding to deploy their own floating wind turbine this March. The overall goal of the UMaine project is to build floating wind turbine farms with the private sector. The project could create at least 10 thousand jobs.
Statoil’s turbine proposal received votes 2-1 in favor to proceed from the PUC. There are several conditions Statoil must meet for the approval to be official.
“It is a milestone for us,” said Kristin Aamodt, Statoil’s project manager.
The four floating wind turbines Statoil proposes to erect 2 miles off Boothbay Harbor would be similar to the Hywind test turbine that Baldacci and Dagher viewed and is producing power off the coast of Norway.
Statoil has built a reputation as a substantial oil and gas producer owned in part by the Norwegian government. Now they are branching into offshore wind taking their expertise to develop renewable-energy projects around the world. They received a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy for this project. UMaine also was a DOE $4 million grant recipient as both projects showcase innovative technologies and improve performance of offshore wind technologies. The DOE is following both projects closely. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited UMaine in 2010 to witness the work being made at the composite laboratory on offshore wind technology.
“We spend a lot of time talking about bringing good business and jobs to Maine –and now we have a billion dollar company that is committed to hiring local workers for this project and any of their other projects between here and Maryland,” said Sen. Troy Jackson who also serves on of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “This is an opportunity for many Maine companies to develop cutting-edge expertise on energy projects not just in Maine but around the world.”
The LePage administration was against the proposal.
“This vote will exacerbate our economic challenges, and it compounds Maine’s competitive disadvantages,” said Governor Paul LePage.
LePage’s Energy Director Patrick Woodcock stated this in a press release, “While the supplier certainly indicates the intention of supporting Maine jobs, this office does not believe that the supplier has demonstrated clear investments in the State of Maine.”
Statoil is committed to hiring at least 150 Mainers directly. Importantly Maine’s manufactures like Reed and Reed may receive contracts to help construct the array of floating turbines. There is a consortium of companies called the Maine Wind Industry Initiative (MWII) that stands ready with their expertise to help construct and deploy the wind turbines. They work directly with Dagher at UMaine.
“Statoil’s commitment to use local resources as well as assist in local supply chain development is very valuable to the growth of a new industry here in Maine. Their commitment will help Maine companies rise to the challenge to provide services not currently available in Maine,” said Paul Williamson, Driector of MWII. “MWII looks forward to supporting Statoil throughout the project.”
Aamodt confirmed that Statoil would engage members of the MWII in any large scale wind farm that they start in the Northeast before 2025. They pledged, in good faith, to award contracts that represent 10 percent of capital spending – amounting to $100 million – for qualified Maine suppliers and contractors.
LePage also complained about the cost to consumers as electricity bills would increase. He neglected to mention that the slight increase would only be — 75 cents a month for an average household, which uses 550 kilowatt hours per month.
Aamodt is confident about the Boothbay project turbines. “We know it works now we want to cut costs,” she said.
In addition Statoil’s continued research and development work with Dr. Dagher at the UMaine is projected bring the cost of the electricity down with modifications to the designs which will enable the turbines to collect and produce electricity more efficiently. A new UMaine laboratory built specifically, with DOE and state bond funding, for the research and development of wind turbines has become the Center of Excellence devoted to these technologies on the East Coast.
“Maine can be center stage as a global hub of innovation and renewable energy,” said Sen John Cleveland, who also serves as the Chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “This project is a good, strong step toward helping to reduce our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.”