BELFAST, Maine — The city is hoping to be selected as a test ground for offshore wind energy.
Under legislation passed this year, the state Wind Power Task Force has until Dec. 15 to identify five offshore development testing areas within state waters 2.5 miles off the point of the farthest stretch of land, including islands.
Those five sites will be used for the testing of new technologies through the University of Maine as well as the private sector. The test sites also may be used for tidal power research and development. One will be set aside specifically for the university.
“We want to be one of these test sites,” City Manager Joseph Slocum said Thursday. “We have been quietly looking into this for several months and it is time to stop being quiet about it. This gives us an opportunity to have a dialogue with the community.”
Slocum, who was working on the city’s proposal Thursday afternoon, said he believes Belfast is well positioned to be selected because of its proximity to a deep-water port and rail service at Mack Point in Searsport, its working waterfront, connections to the university through the Hutchinson Center and support services as well as the social amenities to attract research scientists.
“I envision boats coming in and out to service the site and move engineers back and forth,” he said.
Should the testing succeed, Slocum envisions the new technology being manufactured in the city and possibly shipped across the world from Mack Point. He noted that the Route 1 corridor between the city and Searsport was already set up to handle the movement of wind turbines and their blades.
Slocum noted that the federal government has already surveyed the nation’s coastline and has determined that Maine was at the top of the list of places suitable for offshore wind power production. The state has been dubbed the Saudi Arabia of wind by some, he said. He said the process of harnessing that energy may take time, but it was coming.
“We need to understand that this will take years to develop. This is not light-switch economic development. I don’t know when this is going to happen, but I know it’s coming,” he said.
Besides wanting the city to play a part in wind power research, Slocum said the City Council also hopes to convince the private wind power industry to consider Belfast when looking for sites to locate generating facilities. He said it would be prudent to talk directly to the companies who build and own power-generating facilities to determine whether they would be financially feasible for waters off Belfast.
Because of their potential for affecting existing uses, the test sites will need to meet the approval of the Department of Environmental Protection, Public Utilities Commission, Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, according to LD 1465, which was adopted as an emergency measure and became law on June 3.
“In identifying each such area the department must consider existing pertinent ecological, environmental, social and development related factors” that may have adverse effects on endangered species, commercial fishing, navigation, recreation and existing public access to intertidal and subtidal areas, the law reads in part.
Slocum said he expected the federal government to funnel millions of dollars into the state in the coming years for research into new technology for ocean-based renewable electrical energy production. He predicted the university and its Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Center, which already is conducting research on windmill blades, would be a major beneficiary of those grants.
“First, this new technology is coming and being in on it from the beginning will give us more opportunities to choose from,” Slocum informed the council in his manager’s report. “I am sure that some of our citizens will be concerned about what all this will mean. We don’t have all the answers at this point and no one is signing any agreements. We are simply trying to push forward in an active way to position ourselves to take advantage of economic opportunities that may otherwise drive right by.”