ROCKPORT, Maine — Recession? What recession?
Renewable wind and tidal energy is one sector of the economy that is sailing full speed ahead, and Maine has the resources and level of development to capitalize on the coming boom, experts said Tuesday at the 2009 Energy Ocean Conference at the Samoset Resort.
“This is a revolutionary time for the state,” said Parker Hadlock, project development manager for Cianbro Corp. “We’re wildly excited about it. Maine has all the elements that developers need to build right here.”
It was the first time that the national conference — in its sixth year — has come to Maine, organizers said. More than 450 engineers, designers and others came from Holland, Canada and “dozens of states” to share ideas and information about wind and tidal projects, which is a coup for Maine, said Elaine Scott of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Maine had to compete with other states to host the conference, and she said she was glad the Pine Tree State took the honors.
“It’s a chance for Maine to showcase its strengths,” Scott said. “It’s good energy.”
Over the course of the day, a Canadian official described the path to make the huge potential of tidal energy in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy a near-reality.
Gov. John Baldacci announced a fall trade mission to Spain and Germany which will focus on renewable energy. He also talked about legislation he recently signed into law which will expedite the permitting process for the demonstration and testing of ocean energy technologies in the Gulf of Maine. The governor has appointed an Ocean Energy Task Force that will lead the effort to identify five sites for test projects in the gulf by December.
The director of Portland’s Ocean Renewable Power Co. said that prototype turbine feasibility tests off Eastport are succeeding beyond his expectations.
“We are one of the pioneering firms that is creating a new industry, whether it’s tidal, offshore or wave energy,” said John Ferland.
Even some of Maine’s most venerable engineering firms, such as Old Town’s 129-year-old James W. Sewall Co., have been embracing renewable energy — and the surveying and civil engineering work the sector is providing here, largely for site design for windmill projects.
“It’s become a very large part of our business,” said Patrick Graham, director of project development at the Sewall Co. “As traditional commercial site design dropped off with the recession, the renewable energy sector has picked up that slack completely.”
In addition to the work, Maine needs the energy. In the governor’s opening remarks, he said that 80 percent of homes here heat with oil and the state exports billions of dollars annually to pay for energy. Maine has a goal to cut family energy costs by two-thirds, in part through the use of ocean energy.
“Using the wind, the waves and the tides for heat and transport is promising and will help us achieve these goals,” Baldacci said.
While many of the state’s existing renewable energy projects involve land-based windmills, Beth Nagusky, director of the Office of Innovation & Assistance at the Department of Environmental Protection, said she is “very optimistic” about the role of tidal projects for Maine.
“It’s predictable, and it’s being tested right now,” she said. “We need it all. Tidal may not have the same number of megawatts as offshore wind, but it is distributed all along the coast, and it is every day — whereas wind is more intermittent.”
Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Laboratory, said that offshore wind is an enormous and untapped resource for the state. His lab is working to develop large-scale floating offshore wind platforms and to start up a National Deepwater Offshore Wind Research Center which would test beds off the Maine coast. Dagher’s group earlier this month requested $20 million in federal economic stimulus funds to run the center.
“The technology is here, it’s now,” he said. “The key is adapting technology to the Gulf of Maine. That’s what we’re working on — and we’re very excited.”