By Ramona du Houx

June 26, 2010

DOE Energy Secretary Dr. Chu listens to the progress at the UMaine AWEC composite laboratory in Orono while the Laboratory Director Dr. Dagher, Gov. John Baldacci and the Congressional Delegation listens. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Just ten days after Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (AEWC) the U.S. Department of Energy has requested $20 million to develop and test deepwater offshore wind technologies be added to the federal budget.

The president’s budget was sent to the Congress before Secretary Chu’s visit to Maine and didn’t include this specific funding.

“The request came as a direct result of Chu’s visit. He saw unity in Maine with Republicans and Democrats, thirty-four of our companies, our researchers, and the people of Maine working together to progress the state,” said Habib Dagher, director of AEWC center. “He saw all of Maine working together to lead the world in offshore wind technology, and wanted to be a part of it.”

Chu’s continued support establishes a tangible commitment from the federal government to the development of offshore wind development. For such a large long-term project investors need to know all levels of government, especially the federal government is supportive.

“This is a game changer,” said Dagher. “The Secretary’s funding recommendation will have positive ramifications for Maine around the world. Maine is on the world’s map, today.”

Last fall AEWC received a federal grant to jump-start the research specifically for offshore wind technology. AEWC was the only grant recipient for offshore wind development, in a highly competitive process. With this background it is expected that the AEWC will be in line for some of this funding, if not all of it.

“I am pleased that the federal government has affirmed its support for deepwater offshore wind energy potential in general, and the vital work being conducted by the University of Maine specifically,” said Governor Baldacci.

“Maine is well-positioned to compete for these federal resources because of the leadership we have built over the course of the past two years on deepwater offshore wind energy development. We have worked hard to grow a partnership between the State, Maine’s Congressional Delegation, private industry and the University of Maine to further development of offshore wind energy.”

The letter to Sen. Susan Collins from DOE Assistant Secretary Cathy Zoi announced the $20 million commitment. Zoi said, Chu’s visit to the AEWC Center was, “informative and inspiring.”

The letter added: “We look forward to continuing our work together to harness the power of deepwater wind and pave the way for energy independence and job creation in Maine, and across the country.”

“Sen. Collins deserves a great deal of credit for bringing the Secretary here, her leadership in Washington and Governor Baldacci’s leadership here has been a great partnership. The entire Congressional Delegation’s support in our efforts has been outstanding. And having a federal partner with the Obama Administration and Sec. Chu has made this step possible,” said Dagher. “It’s the beginning.”

The DOE has already provided $25 million in funding with Recovery Act funds to AEWC to progress this project. The DOE has been and continues to be a partner in Maine’s efforts to aggressively pursue offshore wind power development.

The Governor thanked Maine’s Congressional Delegation, which has helped the State obtain more than $25 million dollars in grants to help develop offshore energy.

“We are grateful for this significant level of support,” said Governor Baldacci. “The federal government is an important partner in our efforts to grow green jobs and advance the promise of offshore wind technology.”

The state identified three demonstration sites for offshore wind technology located in Maine coastal waters. Two will be commercial sites and one is reserved for AEWC and Dagher’s team as a test site off Monhegan Island.

The funding if allocated to AEWC could be used to build the first test site windmill.

The state’s energy plan reduces Maine’s consumption of liquid fossil fuels by at least 30 percent by 2030.