Gov. John Baldacci, Public Utilities Commissioner Jack Cashman, and Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president, Maine International Trade Center, attend WindExpo 2009 in Zaragoza. Photo courtesy MITC.
By Ramona du Houx
October 19, 2009
A success that is generating Maine’s clean-energy growth best describes the state’s recent trade mission to Germany and Spain — and Governor John Baldacci’s extended agreement-signing, windmill-viewing trip to Norway.
“We went on the trip because we wanted to see what the future was. The Vikings came across the Atlantic to discover America, and here we were going back across to discover what was going to be the future in this field,” said the governor in an exclusive interview.
“We went to the most highly regarded world leaders in the wind-energy field and established relationships with them. They will be here in November to visit our factories and research facilities, to see the workforce and our commitment first hand. They are excited, and so are we. Maine wants to be able to establish a beachhead here. So that we will be the place where people and businesses come for investment and for getting the job done in this growing field.”
The trade mission’s 23 participants included Maine companies that build, and provide supplies and logistics for wind projects. Among them were Cianbro, Reed & Reed, Bath Iron Works, Sprague Energy, Bangor Hydro Electric, Larkin Enterprises, Sullivan and Merritt Constructors, law firms involved in the projects, and Northern Maine Community College, which has a wind-energy technology program.
“We have a huge opportunity to develop offshore as well as more onshore wind energy in Maine. We went over with the Ivy League of businesses that have been involved in the research and development, installation, servicing, and financing in the wind-energy sector in Maine.
“Our businesses wanted to get a leg up on all the other Northeastern businesses in this field. They want to become the world’s center of excellence for the wind industry — where companies who want to install, service, and develop these offshore and onshore sites come to them. They’ve already invested millions of dollars to gear up for this and have hired people. They love the work and are growing, like Reed & Reed who started with the Mars Hill project.
“Maine now has a unique coalition of wind-industry experts. Good paying jobs and benefits come with the growth of this industry. And we are not importing energy; we’re creating our own clean energy, making sure we are reducing the impacts to the environment, while protecting our national security.
“The trip was about building relationships and getting our oar in the water, so when the world looks to further develop this sector, they will look to Maine as one of the leaders.”
The trip has already led to investments in Maine.
According to Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center (MITC), who co-oriented the trip, numerous enquiries have been coming in from companies all over Europe that heard about Maine’s trade mission. Baldacci spoke to Spanish and German industries at two renewable-energy briefings, describing the development of the industry in Maine. Some European companies that watched the governor’s presentation, and/or met with him and the trade delegation are ready to invest in Maine.
From e-mail letters sent to the governor from Gamesa and Principle Power, it’s evident that investments in Maine will be forthcoming. Principle Power is already working with Dr. Habib Dagher of UMaine’s composite research center. They praised the governor for having the “foresight in putting Maine at the leading edge of deep-water wind innovation and the exploitation of this abundant renewable resource.”
There are no offshore wind developments off America’s coasts. The field is wide open, and the Gulf of Maine has the deepest waters close to the shore on the Eastern seaboard, conditions that make it an ideal first site for an offshore wind farm. The governor, dignitaries, and Dr. Dagher traveled to Norway to see the world’s first offshore, floating windmill platform. To get the best view, they took a boat 26 miles off the coast, braving six- to eight-foot waves in the infamous North Sea. What were your impressions when you saw the world’s first floating offshore windmill?
“It looked like the Washington Monument, the way it was erected there, planted in the North Sea. I thought to myself, ‘this symbol of deep-sea, wind energy represents our independence from foreign energy.
“They were explaining to me, ‘Governor, if you take these windmills that T. Boone Perkins is building in the Midwest and you put them in the ocean out here, they would be able to produce twice as much energy as they do on land.’ They are much more efficient and sustainable.
“It was tall, majestic, and stable. It’s called a floating platform, but it didn’t move at all. Seeing it made me realize that the trip was worth it.
“Our people were saying, ‘It’s not rocket science; we could do this.’ Our people are so confident, they have that Maine can-do spirit. They thought this trip was well worth it, because we don’t need to do things incrementally like the Europeans had to; we can leapfrog to where they are now, with this alliance and the visit.”
You and Dr. Habib Dagher of UMaine signed a letter of intent with the Norwegian firm StatoilHydro, the company that built the platform, to conduct a feasibility study, which could lead to offshore wind development along Maine’s coast. Dr. Dagher first drew attention to StatoilHydro when he applied for a federal grant to build a Center of Excellence in Maine, focused on wind energy development. What did U.S. Energy Secretary Chu have to say when you told him about this?
“Secretary Chu suggested that we establish that relationship because America cannot afford to wait. We can’t do it incrementally, we need to leap frog to the future— now. He asked us to work with them and turn our Center of Excellence grant proposal into a proposal for an International Center of Excellence with the Norwegians. We have the application in for the grant, and are awaiting their decision. We’re very encouraged by the support we have been receiving.
“With an International Center of Excellence businesses will be able to come to see what’s going on with cutting edge technologies in wind. They could discover opportunities to make investments in start up companies, in Maine. We have expertise in this field here, which we have been building, now we’re making it stronger.”
Up until now most wind development has taken place on high hills, in Maine. In Spain and flying over France participants eyed windmills on farms. Is this something we can look for in Maine?
“Aroostook County looks like a lot of the rural areas of Germany where they have windmills. There they are doing the economic development and feeding their urban areas with electricity from wind energy produced on farms.
“During the community wind conference here in Augusta I met with
Sue Jones,(who put the conference together), the town manger of Fort Fairfield and Aroostook Co. farmers. They are working with the USDA and the Department of Energy to develop cooperatives that can generate enough energy to run the farms and to sell the excess back to the grid. So they can become profitable. These farmers are looking to diversify. They want to grow electricity. We want to help them.
“They can create a district, just like the island in Vinalhaven with its wind development. It’s exactly what Denmark has done.”
“This can also help our fisherman, if they work with the offshore or island wind development. This is as exciting for the farmers on the land, as it is for the fisherman on the water.”
Members of Maine’s Wind Industry Initiative (MWII) were on the mission, the consortium is unique to Maine where traditional competitors are now working together to boost Maine’s potential in wind power. It sounds a lot like Maine Built Boats, is it?
“This development and industry is a lot like the Maine Built Boats. Frankly the boat builders were the ones that started us thinking about wind development. They felt that the composite materials used in their boats would work well for windmills. They asked, ‘why are we importing the blades, when we could be manufacturing the blades? Why aren’t we manufacturing the component parts here? They arranged meetings and discussions with GE wind.
“There is a lot of symmetry here. Many of the same companies involved in Maine Built Boats are also members of the Maine Wind Industry Initiative. Both groups use the composite technologies developed at UMaine.”
Mission delegates met with potential business partners in meetings arranged by the U.S. Commercial Service in Spain and Germany, and attended the Wind Power Expo in Zaragoza. We’re participants encouraged?
“Bath Iron Works, and Cianbro said that the first day made the trip worthwhile. It was defiantly a success.”
Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) has a feasibility grant from Maine Technology Institute to find out if part of the former base could be turned into a green energy park. Participants were impressed seeing the Industrial Wind Park that you visited. Is this the future for BNAS?
“When I walked out there I looked at Lisa Read, from Bath Iron Works. She had a big smile on her face. I said, ‘Lisa this looks just like were home at Bath Iron Works.’ It was a mirror image.
“In some areas of Maine the potential offshore wind sites correspond to land based facilities that could work in tandem, like the mid-coast region with BNAS.
“At BNAS the development of the engineering program and the Southern Maine Community College extension program on wind power development are designed for something like this. And with BIW just down the road, and a potential offshore wind development research site, everything is in place. You have a wonderful fit.
“And you have opportunities in Brewer with Cianbro doing the modules and in Kittery with the Navel Shipyard. There are opportunities, using what we already have established, to develop an infrastructure around the wind energy industry, throughout the state of Maine.”
How would we pay for a development like the European Industrial Park?
“Look at what we are doing with the robotics program at UMaine. They got $5 million dollars from a bond issue, now they are attracting private investment and federal government investment. It’s the same process that helps industrial parks grow. In Germany they started out with $50 million EURO’s and they attracted $250 million EURO’s from private sector capitol. In the mid-coast area, with the closure of the Brunswick Navel Air Station we made the area a Military Pine Tree Zone. So businesses could locate and have taxes reduced or eliminated for ten years. We created this incentive so businesses could come in and make their investments because they won’t get taxed on business equipment, machinery, and sales taxes. And the workers can retain their own withholding on Maine taxes for the company.
“Federal and state resources were the seed. And when you have a company like Bath Iron Works you have an opportunity to cerate really good synergies for tremendous benefit for the entire state. BWI has employment in every county in the state.
“State government helps to coordinate the agencies and the resources we have while working with our Congressional Delegation, and at the same time attracting private capital.”
Do you have a different understanding about the wind power industry since your trip?
“From what we heard, overseas, there are only a few suppliers for wind turbines. If we develop turbines and component parts, in Maine, it would help European wind production. With more turbines available in the market it will drive down prices, so more wind development could take place. Right now it’s not as affordable as it could be.”
Spain and Germany rank second and third in wind-energy production and installation. Maine is home to 95 percent of installed wind power in New England.
What does Europe have we need?
“Europe has the technology and research that could take us beyond the incremental wind development stage to the fully mature stage. They have resources that are interested in developing wind power in the United States.
“There is no offshore wind development on the East Coast, so they are very interested in Cape Wind, of Boston and Rhode Island’s proposals. And they are very interested in what Maine is doing.
“European businesses are thinking that if they are one of the first companies to make a beachhead in Maine than they would be the go-to-company because of the relationship they would have built with the state, and Maine companies. Maine businesses could continue to work with them on new projects.”
How have they helped?
“They help us demonstrating to us what they have done –we can do. We’re going to do it better and more efficiently because we can build on their technology. In today’s world technology continues to be out-dated rapidly because of new cutting edge research that continues to be developed. That’s good for us, with UMaine’s cutting edge capabilities in composites.
“Dr. Dagher believes that offshore windmill structures, above the water, can be made lighter and more energy efficient if they are made from composite materials developed at UMaine. The turbines would produce a megawatt and a half of electricity.”
Maine only uses 3 megawatts to power the state, which means wind power development could make Maine an energy exporter to New England.
“Everyone on the trip was pulling together for Maine. On our shoulders rests the future of the next generation. We have to make sure they have a solid foundation.
Though energy is not the only answer to Maine’s future, it is a critical element of it.
“We have wonderful natural resources with 38,000 miles of coastline. Now we have, an opportunity to utilize areas of it in a smart sustainable renewable way. We can learn from our ancestors when they harnessed hydro electric-power and industries grew. We have other renewable opportunities for growth with bio-refineries like the one in Old Town, with UMaine’s work on cellulosic ethanol, wood energy and biomass. The energy that we can harness from the sun, wind, water, tidal power, and wood power, is huge. If we are smart on all of these fronts Maine’s leadership will be shinning very brightly in the 22nd century. I’m determined continue to lead Maine down this path.”