Delegation makes case for offshore energy plan

Posted June 05, 2009, at 10:45 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu expressed interest Friday morning in a plan that seeks to put the University of Maine at the forefront of a national offshore wind power research effort, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said after she and the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation met with Chu.

Collins, with Sen. Olympia Snowe, Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, Gov. John Baldacci and Habib Dagher, the director of the Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Center, located on the UMaine campus in Orono, presented UMaine’s idea for a National Deepwater Offshore Wind Research Center, including testing beds off the Maine coast.

Collins said the Maine group on Friday requested $20 million in federal economic stimulus funds for the center, which would serve to design and test large-scale floating offshore wind platforms that could serve as the basis of an offshore wind industry. The delegation is requesting that the Department of Energy initially fund the project from the $2.5 billion that was included in the economic stimulus package for research, development, demonstration and commercial application of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

“There still remains a lot of research and development work to be accomplished in order to bring about deep-water offshore wind [power],” Collins said by phone shortly after the meeting ended. “The University of Maine is uniquely positioned to accomplish that work. Maine has an abundance of deep water not far from its shore, we have strong offshore winds, and the university leads the nation in composite technology.”

Collins said she intends to pursue another $5 million through the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which she is a member.

“This is among my highest priorities,” she said. “It is a win-win for the state of Maine in terms of producing new jobs for the state and having the state lead the way in reducing our dependence on foreign oil. If we can fit into the plan that the Department of Energy has for achieving 20 percent of our electricity from wind power by the year 2030, that will benefit the entire nation.

Baldacci invited Chu to visit the AEWC facility, where plans for a prototype testing center for wind blade components are moving forward, Dagher said Friday.

Dagher, who has made offshore wind technology research one of the composite center’s main focuses in recent years, said he spent about 15 minutes of the meeting discussing the reasons Maine should be considered for a national center.

Eight percent of the country’s deep-water offshore wind resources are off the Maine coast, Dagher said he told Chu.

“That’s a big deal,” Dagher said by phone. “The other thing is, 89 percent of Maine’s offshore resource is in deep water. We have the deepest water closest to the shore in Maine than any other state in the East Coast, which means we can, in state waters, start doing the testing and development of these turbines.”

Dagher, who testified last summer about wind energy in front of Congress’ Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, has estimated Maine has the potential to produce 127 gigawatts of power in deep water — 60 to 900 meters — within 50 nautical miles of the coast.

By comparison, the entire U.S. coastline has about 1,500 gigawatts of offshore wind potential in waters deeper than 60 meters within 50 nautical miles of its shores.

In addition, the AEWC has won the composite industry’s top award three years in a row, which Dagher said makes the UMaine center a national leader in the materials used for the turbine and blade components. The university also has a long history of studying the Gulf of Maine.

Dagher said his group has identified a number of potential testing beds for turbines in the Gulf of Maine, but the sites are not confirmed yet. The projects would not go forward without local approval, he added.

In an April 28 letter to Chu asking for the meeting, Collins wrote there are estimates that developing just five gigawatts worth of offshore wind power could attract $20 billion in investment to the state and create more than 15,000 jobs that can be sustained over the next 30 years. Those five gigawatts, Dagher said, could be Maine’s contribution to the Department of Energy’s recently stated goal of wind power supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by the year 2030.

The meeting with Chu came one day after Baldacci signed legislation to facilitate permitting of experimental ocean-based energy projects.

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.

In addition, Baldacci’s $306 million bond package being considered in the state appropriations committee includes $7.5 million to create a Maine Marine Wind Energy fund.

“The governor told the secretary that the bill had been signed into law just yesterday,” Collins said. “In addition, [Baldacci] is optimistic that the bond package will include money toward deep-water wind test beds.”

Last August the Maine Technology Institute announced the AEWC had received a $5 million grant from the Maine Technology Asset Fund to build laboratory additions for pilot manufacturing and testing of composite structures for the renewable energy industry and other projects.

The Maine group now will wait to hear from the Department of Energy. Collins said she plans to stay in touch with Chu’s office.

“Now we’ve said our piece,” Dagher said.

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

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