OPEC, a Portland tidal developer was at the conference. They are building a facility in Eastport.
By Ramona du Houx
July 3 2009
Many equate the current green energy technology boom as being as important to the economy as the Industrial Revolution.
Maine is ideally suited for wind, wave, and tidal energy production.
With that backdrop, more than 400 engineers, designers, technicians, and other experts came from Holland, Canada, and across America to Rockland, intent to share ideas and information about wind, wave, and tidal energy projects at the EnergyOcean Conference in June.
Paul Williams represents businesses associated with off shore wind development. He leads the The Maine Wind Industry Initiative. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Organizers from the Department of Economic and Community Development said the event could give the industry in Maine a boost with efforts in offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy. Maine competed nationally to host the event, which will help establish Maine’s potential as an important renewable-energy hub. The state’s proximity to New England electricity markets is a great advantage.
The conference, in its sixth year, is a prime venue to network with professionals and regulatory officials in the ocean-energy field.
Governor John Baldacci, who is an avid supporter, promoting alternative energies to lessen Maine’s dependency on oil and grow the economy, opened the event.
“Maine is New England’s leader in developing its vast land-based wind resource,” said the governor. “Maine has more than 300 megawatts currently operating or under construction, and another 450 in various stages of development. Our offshore wind resource is even larger, estimated at more than 100 gigawatts. That’s enough to power all of New England — with power to spare.”
With 80 percent of homes in Maine still dependent on heating with oil, the sooner the state can generate energy from alternative sources, the sooner Mainers will realize savings in energy costs.
“Our state alone exports many billions of dollars each year,” said Baldacci. “That money goes out-of-state and overseas to pay for heat and motor fuel. Maine people want to stop spending their energy dollars overseas and instead keep those dollars here. In Maine, we understand that the challenges we face are large, and that we need to act now, act quickly, and act as one.”
The governor’s recent legislation received unanimous support in the Legislature, to expedite the permitting process for the demonstration and testing of ocean-energy technologies in the Gulf of Maine. The Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force will identify five sites for test projects in the gulf by December. On the day after the law was passed, he and the congressional delegation held talks about Maine’s offshore wind potential with Energy Secretary Chu in Washington, DC. Dr. Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Laboratory, accompanied the Maine delegation on the trip to jointly request $20 million in federal economic stimulus funds to establish a National Deepwater Offshore Wind Research Center.
“Secretary Chu was engaged in discussions. He asked relevant, insightful questions. We’re hopeful. The goal in creating a center for offshore wind is to attract people from around the world to conduct research here and then set up businesses here. It will be the first deepwater test site in the United States,” said Dr. Dagher. “Maine’s offshore wind is our largest renewable resource, with the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants worth of wind within 50 nautical miles of the state of Maine. It’s like discovering oil in Texas. The goal is to establish a deliberate process to move forward, while protecting the environment, to create sustainable jobs.”
UMaine’s composite center is central to the development of offshore wind technology in Maine.
“UMaine is working on different fronts. In addition to the Offshore Wind Research Center, we will break ground on a deepwater, offshore-wind, fabrication-testing center at UMaine this month. That facility will allow us to test the offshore wind components before placing them on platforms in the Gulf of Maine. It will be the first testing center using robotics to manufacture blades, making them more precise. No one in the industry has done that yet,” said Dr. Dagher.
According to experts, Maine has great potential in the tidal and wave industry as well.
“Maine has tremendous potential for ocean energy, both in ocean currents and tides,” said Jeff Leahey of the National Hydropower Association. “I think hydropower in Maine and across the country is poised to take off. Right now, we are catching up to Ireland and Scotland. Advances in the industry are happening at a rapid rate. Areas that had minimal potential, now are being looked at as potentially productive sites. Maine is considered an excellent prime site.”
UMaine received an award for $950,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy for tidal power demonstration, working in partnership with Maine Maritime Academy and a Portland-based company, Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC), last spring.
According to Jake Ward of UMaine, ORPC is looking at tidal energy generation up in Washington County, where the tides are the highest in Maine. The director of ORPC has conducted prototype turbine feasibility tests off Eastport. “We are a pioneering firm that is creating a new industry,” said John Ferland. “Our preliminary tests are exceeding expectations. Maine is a tremendous resource.”
There are many industries involved in this energy sector. A new organization, The Maine Wind Industry Initiative, who debuted at the conference, wants to organize the effort.
“The objective is to pull all our resources together, from various businesses, educational institutions, and governmental resources, under one umbrella. It will give the state strength, entering into the world’s marketplace,” said Paul Williamson of the Maine Composites Alliance, who is also the founder of the Maine Wind Industry Initiative.
Old Town’s James W. Sewall Co. engineering firm has been working windmill site-design projects.
“It’s become a very large part of our business,” said Patrick Graham, director of project development at the Sewall Co. “When traditional commercial site design dropped off with the recession, the renewable energy sector more than filled the void. We’re here to network and let others know what we do.”
Reed and Reed, construction, designed and built special cranes, when they were contracted by FirstWind to erect their windmill towers for Mars Hill. They went on to work of FirstWind’s Stetson wind farm. Now they are considered experts in the field and have contracts in neighboring states to put up more windmills.
Bath Iron Works (BIW) is looking to diversify in the energy field as well.
“We’d like to see the knowledge and expertise and that we have in the industry branch out into offshore wind. Which could mean developing large platforms or specialized boats out of steel,” said Lisa Read, project manager for industrial products at BIW.
“The cost in transportation and heating for BIW is huge. Anything we can do to drive the economy towards a renewable, sustainable energy future is good for BIW,” said Vincent Dickinson of BIW’s environmental division.
On the first day of the conference, regulatory processes were explained by different official agencies. Day two saw presentations from Canadian projects, and day three was Maine’s opportunity to showcase the state’s potential, with presentations of projects planned and some underway. Trips to UMaine’s composites center and to a local boat builder were also arranged.
“The conference was like watching the birth of a new industry. It’s very exciting,” said Dr. Dagher.
The governor received the Political Pioneer Award, from the EnergyOcean Conference, given to an elected official for overtly supporting and promoting ocean energy in his or her capacity as a political leader.
The state will continue to promote and advocate for renewable energy as part of the process to implement the governor’s vision for Maine as a leader in the green energy revolution. The fall trade mission to Spain and Germany will focus on alternative, clean energy.
On April 22, 2009, President Obama announced that the Interior Department finalized the framework for renewable energy production on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The framework establishes a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way for orderly, safe, and environmentally responsible renewable energy development activities, such as the siting and construction of offshore wind farms on the OCS.
With an invigorated federal and state emphasis on ocean energy, attendees of the conference were enthusiastic about America’s role in this emerging clean energy field.