“The United States has tremendous untapped clean energy resources, and it is important for us to develop technologies that will allow us to utilize those resources in ways that are economically viable,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “These awards to the first offshore wind projects in the U.S. will pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diverse domestic energy portfolio that develops every source of American energy.”
During U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visit to Maine, in June of 2010, he saw the state’s progress in developing the technology and business expertise that is hoped would enable the state to become the world’s leader in floating offshore wind farm development.
“Impressed,” was Chu’s official proclamation of the work being conducted at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (AEWC) center where the wind technology is being developed with the help of a $10 million federal grant, as well as Maine Technology Fund grants. Secretary Chu was so impressed he continued to advise officials about actions the state should take to help position Maine for further federal funding. In 2009 Chu met with Governor John Baldacci, Maine’s Congressional Delegation and Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Director of AEWC, in Washington, D.C. about Maine’s offshore wind potential and long-term research and development plans.
An artists rendering of a proposed floating wind farm off the coast of Maine beyond the horizon and out of sight. The new design will have the wind tower in the center of the design.
Out of the grants announced on December 13, 2012, only seven out of seventy applications won Advanced Technology Demonstration Program awards for offshore wind projects. Maine was the only state where two projects received funds.
The two DOE offshore wind grants initially of $4 million each went to UMaine’s AEWC laboratory and Stratoil. Together they could end up receiving $93 million with the completion of development plans.
“It’s probably the largest research grant to the state of Maine,” said Dr. Dagher. “We are pleased that the DOE has selected our team’s program after a rigorous technical review. This research and development program could be transformational for our state, and will help us demonstrate a unique, patent-pending floating wind turbine technology called VolturnUS.”
The 1:8-scale VolturnUS floating platform will be deployed by UMaine researchers in spring 2013 at the UMaine Deepwater Offshore Wind Test Site near Monhegan Island, Maine. The university plans to install a pilot floating offshore wind farm with two 6-megawatt direct-drive turbines on concrete semi-submersible foundations. These concrete foundations could result in improvements in commercial-scale production and provide offshore wind projects with a cost-effective alternative to traditional steel foundations.
Statoil North America of Stamford, Connecticut plans to deploy four 3-megawatt wind turbines on floating spar buoy structures in the Gulf of Maine off Boothbay Harbor at a water depth of approximately 460 feet. Floating wind turbines can be placed further offshore, so they aren’t visible from land. Just one of the turbines proposed in this project would produce as much electricity as four typical land-based turbines.
The spar buoys and UMaine’s turbines will be assembled in harbor to reduce installation costs and then towed to the wind project sites. Both floating turbine projects are linked through the research and development taking place at UMaine. Statoil signed a memorandum of understanding with the UMaine to share offshore wind turbine technologies. The MOU came about after Governor John Baldacci, Dr. Dagher and other wind consortium members visited Norway to see Statoil’s and the world’s first floating wind turbine. In Norway Baldacci said the floating turbine resembled the Washington Monument. Maine’s offshore wind turbines will rise 300 feet above the ocean and with blades 500 feet in diameter will actually be taller than the Washington Monument.
The projects will be judged by the DOE in phases.
In the initial phase, each project received up to $4 million to complete the engineering, design and permitting phase of this award. Then the DOE will select up to three of these projects for follow-on phases that focus on siting, construction and installation and aim to achieve commercial operation by 2017. These projects will receive up to $47 million each over four years, subject to Congressional appropriations. UMaine and Statoil have developed comprehensive plans that have a high degree of probability of success. Extreme weather testing of model turbines took place last year and designs have been modified accordingly.
Dagher said the university already has lined up roughly $42 million in private money to supplement the larger federal grant that would likely be awarded. The UMaine offshore wind development project Dagher is spearheading could generate 20,000 thousand jobs and bring new businesses to the state.
Wind and other alternative energy sources are part of a comprehensive state plan to help lesson the state’s dependency on oil. The Baldacci administration with the Public Utilities Commission and the legislature put into place state goals for alternative energy sources to be sold to the grid. Over the past ten years oil consumption in Maine has dropped by ten percent as state government initiatives have encouraged alternative energy sources and energy efficiency methods.
“As a state we still spend over a billion dollars on oil, each year. Oil heat remains the number one overhead cost to businesses. As we transition to this never ending wind energy resource Maine will become less dependent on oil and energy costs will diminish— making the state more attractive to businesses,” said Governor John Baldacci. “It’s key to Maine’s economic development.”
Some project lower energy costs as these big offshore wind farm projects are scaled up.
“This is a major grant and puts Maine at the center of the development of the offshore wind industry,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “The University of Maine has used advanced materials to create a technology that allows the turbines to be bigger and last longer in the harsh marine environment, and that is going to translate into lower energy costs.”
Offshore wind represents a large, untapped energy resource for the United States – offering over 4,000 gigawatts of clean, domestic electricity potential, four times the nation’s current total generation capacity. According to a new report commissioned by the DOE, a U.S. offshore wind industry that takes advantage of this abundant domestic resource could support up to 200,000 manufacturing, construction, operation and supply chain jobs across the country and drive over $70 billion in annual investments by 2030.
Last year, land-based wind power represented 32 percent of all new electric capacity additions in the U.S., accounting for $14 billion in new investment. Nearly seventy percent of the equipment installed at those U.S. wind farms – including wind turbines and components like towers, blades, gears and generators – is now from domestic manufacturers, doubling from 35 percent in 2005. Maine continues to be at the forefront of land and offshore wind development.
Offshore wind represents an economic and energy opportunity that is projected to surpass the success of land-based wind development as offshore winds generate more consistent and constant energy. In addition floating turbines can be placed further out to sea – beyond the horizon – so they don’t obstruct views but will capture stronger winds.
“These projects will help lead to the further diversification of Maine’s economy and open the door to future energy cost saving,” said Congressman Mike Michaud.
These projects will also help clear hurdles to installing utility-scale turbines in U.S. waters, connecting to the power grid and navigating new siting and permitting processes.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC), which is set to expire at the end of this year, has been a major driver of this expansion. To continue the growth of U.S. wind energy production and component manufacturing, the Obama Administration has called on Congress to extend successful clean energy tax credits like the PTC.