Talks on offshore energy test sites set

Posted Aug. 27, 2009, at 11:44 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Conservation and the State Planning Office have scheduled five informational meetings in September to discuss possible demonstration sites in Maine waters for new technologies for deep-water, offshore wind energy.

The demonstration site project is part of an overall state effort to position Maine as a key player in the eventual development of offshore wind energy. The state’s Ocean Energy Task Force is conducting the sessions to gather additional information before tapping up to five demonstration sites.

Those possible sites are located in southern Maine, the midcoast region, the island areas and Down East, and correspond to the regions where the meetings have been scheduled: Ellsworth, Wiscasset, Machias, Wells and Rockport.

The task force expects to release a map next week that more clearly identifies the general areas along Maine’s coast that are under consideration and are seeking comments on how the public uses those waters.

“What we’ve done is identify very broad areas along the coast that meet very general criteria,” said Kathleen Leyden, who directs the Maine Coastal Program for the State Planning Office. “They’re deep, windy and have no obstructions that would prohibit the placement of equipment.”

Once the sites have been identified, developers, including the University of Maine as well as commercial developers, will be able to apply for general state permits to use them for testing and demonstration of developing wind technologies. They will also monitor how they function in offshore conditions and determine what, if any, impact they have on the environment and human activity.

Any eventual demonstration projects on the sites will require a general state permit as well as other federal permits, which will allow for formal public comment. The planned regional meetings, Leyden said, will provide all sectors of the public to get in on the ground floor to talk about how they use the areas.

The task force will make a preliminary decision in November on up to five sites. There will be a 30-day comment period on those sites before a final agency action in December.

The task force is working under state legislation adopted in June that mandates that the two departments work together to identify potential sites in state waters. Initially, Leyden said, the task force has reviewed potential impacts on natural resources, threatened and endangered species, fishing, recreation, navigation uses, public access and historical and archaeological factors.

Its review also will consider proximity of the sites to ports, rail and transmission sites. The members have met with small, local groups, and the regional meetings are the next step in the process. Part of the identification process will include public support, and the task force also will consider areas where people support the economic development potential the demonstration site can provide in Maine, she said.

The state has tremendous energy potential, according to state geologist Robert Marvinney, who also is a member of the task force. Although the large-scale, deep-water wind farms likely will be developed farther offshore in federal waters, Marvinney said the state can play a significant role in the development of offshore wind energy.

The Obama administration has set a national goal of 20 percent wind energy by the year 2030, and Gov. John Baldacci has proposed that Maine develop 3,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020 with at least 300 megawatts coming from offshore projects.

“That’s a huge opportunity,” Marvinney said. “Compared to almost every other coastal state, Maine has very deep water, close to shore and within state waters,” Marvinney said. “Plus we have three excellent, deep-water ports for shipping, making us the ideal testing ground for deep-water wind power. Maine has a unique and basic competitive advantage no other state can match.”

Other states are interested in offshore wind energy. Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Texas and Massachusetts all are working on projects within their state waters, he said. But all of those are shallow-water projects, similar to those that have been developed in Europe.

“The best wind resources are farther offshore, and that’s federal waters,” Marvinney said. “Within state waters, we’re going to try to jump-start the testing platforms to demonstrate that the deep-water technology can be put out there in offshore waters.”

The University of Maine has been working for two decades on research on this type of technology, including the composite materials that could be used in offshore wind generators. It has been a member of the task force, which also has received input from interested industry representatives.

According to Jake Ward, the assistant vice president for research and economic development, the University of Maine has specific interest in the demonstration sites, one of which has been earmarked for university use. The university already has submitted a proposal to the Department of Energy for a demonstration project on that site.

“This is an opportunity for the university to get a research and development site where we can test new technology such as composite blade designs and demonstrate the feasibility of those designs,” he said.

If funded, the project would have to go through the state and federal permitting process, but could be ready to go into the water by 18 months after it was approved, Ward said.

rhewitt@bangordailynews.net

667-9394

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Meetings schedule

Public information meetings on possible demonstration sites to demonstrate technologies for deep-water, offshore wind energy will be held 6:30-9 p.m. at:

Ellsworth, Wednesday, Sept. 9, Holiday Inn.

Wiscasset, Tuesday, Sept. 15, Wiscasset Community Center.

Machias, Wednesday, Sept. 16, UMaine Machias Performing Arts Center.

Wells, Tuesday, Sept. 22, Wells High School Auditorium.

Rockport, Tuesday, Sept. 29, Samoset Resort.

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