Baldacci signs bill for ocean energy

Posted June 04, 2009, at 7:52 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci signed legislation to facilitate permitting of experimental ocean-based energy projects on Thursday, one day before he heads to Washington, D.C., to tout Maine as an ideal location for a federal test project on offshore wind.

The bill, LD 1465, seeks to streamline the permitting process for companies that want to set up renewable energy test projects in the Gulf of Maine. The state hopes to select five sites for test projects within the gulf by Dec. 15.

“While other states are talking about the potential for wind power, Maine is already in a leadership role,” Baldacci said during a signing ceremony in his office. As he signed, the governor was flanked by many of the members of an Ocean Energy Task Force that has worked on the issue and will lead the effort to identify the sites.

Maine is already New England’s leading producer of energy from land-based wind farms. But most of those facilities, as well as other unsuccessful wind project proposals, have been controversial with residents.

Experts claim that the Gulf of Maine, with its constant, strong winds and frequent storms, is where the real energy potential lies.

Some estimates put the wind-energy potential in the gulf at 100 gigawatts — roughly the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s energy needs.

Federal officials are exploring the possibility of a federally funded offshore wind project. Maine officials want that demonstration site and a national center for research and development of offshore wind technology located in this state.

Those are among the key messages that Baldacci, a Democrat, will be taking to Washington, D.C., on Friday when he meets with President Obama’s energy secretary, Steven Chu. Baldacci will be joined by the members of Maine’s congressional delegation as well as University of Maine researcher Habib Dagher during the meeting.

“I think this is really going to help us tomorrow in the meeting with Secretary Chu,” Baldacci said, referring to the streamlining bill.

Dagher, who is director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Laboratory at UMaine, is working with other researchers to develop wind-power technology able to withstand the unrelenting weather conditions that would cause rapid corrosion and other damage to structures in the Gulf of Maine.

Researchers at UMaine and other universities and companies worldwide are trying to develop wind turbines deployable in deep water like that found throughout the gulf. The few existing offshore wind projects worldwide are almost exclusively in shallower waters.

Locating industrial wind power facilities far offshore — ideally, far enough to avoid being visible from land — could help energy companies avoid some of the considerable challenges of placing enormous wind turbines near people’s homes, businesses or favorite recreational spots.

Beth Nagusky, director of the Office of Innovation and Assistance at the Department of Environmental Protection, said the task force now must identify the five test sites and begin the work of streamlining Maine’s regulations for permitting of commercial offshore energy projects.

The Legislature, at the request of another task force, approved legislation last year that expedites the regulatory review process for land-based wind projects. The initiative remains controversial among some, however, who claim it reduces citizens’ ability to fight permitting of large wind projects near their homes or businesses.

Maine will be in the national limelight in two weeks when a large international conference on ocean-based energy comes to Rockland. Hundreds of people are expected to attend the conference, which focuses not only on generating electricity from wind but also from the tides, waves and currents.

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