ORONO, Maine — A University of Maine-led research and development effort to explore deepwater offshore wind power in the Gulf of Maine received an $8 million boost Thursday, with up to $5 million more possibly on the way.
The Department of Energy announced Thursday afternoon it has awarded a 38-member consortium led by UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center an $8 million grant to develop and deploy three small-scale deepwater offshore wind turbines that will float on composite platforms off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire.
Click here for a list of consortium participants.
Two of the turbine models, which could all be in place in the next two years, will be located in one as-yet undetermined site in the Gulf of Maine. The third model will be located at the Maine-New Hampshire border. Researchers will use the models to develop lightweight composite platforms with the eventual goal of a large-scale floating wind farm in the Gulf of Maine, which would be the first of its kind in the world.
“This puts Maine in the drivers’ seat of deepwater offshore technology in the country,” UMaine professor Habib Dagher, the director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, said Thursday. “The fact that the Department of Energy has selected us provides a catalyst for industry in the state to work with us to help achieve this goal. It’s a bright day for Maine [and] a bright day for the future of Maine.”
The $8 million could grow to $13 million for the Advanced Structures and Composites Center if President Barack Obama signs an energy and water budget bill the Senate passed 80-17 Thursday afternoon and the House approved earlier. The bill includes a $5 million appropriation for the UMaine center secured by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriation Committee.
The $5 million would go toward establishing a UMaine-based national center for deepwater offshore wind research and development. Part of the allocation would also go toward the development of the models.
Dagher, a longtime advocate for Maine to be the site of future research and development of deepwater offshore wind facilities, has equated the Gulf of Maine’s wind capacity to that of Saudi Arabia for oil production.
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 about 130 gigawatts of power in deep water — 60 to 900 meters deep — 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, Dagher has said.The Department of Energy has a stated goal of achieving 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind power by the year 2030. Gov. John Baldacci said Thursday Maine’s goal is to generate 5 gigawatts of power by 2030.
Dagher said 1 gigawatt is roughly equivalent to the energy output of one nuclear power plant. Five gigawatts of power, which is 3 percent of the energy potential of the Gulf of Maine within 50 miles of shore, would be enough to attract roughly $20 billion in related investment, according to Dagher.The Department of Energy grant is also expected to lead to job growth in Maine, Dagher said. Initially, UMaine will hire students, scientists and some faculty for research, development, production and deployment of the technology.
However, with an estimated $20 billion in investment, Dagher said estimates are that the project could create up to 15,600 jobs — if the entire project from creation to implementation occurs in Maine. Even if half of the project ends up outside Maine, Dagher added, it would still mean several thousand jobs.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Thursday during a conference call that the wind power initiatives are part of “a new industrial revolution” that will reduce independence on foreign energy sources and keep America competitive.
“The world is beginning to take hold of this and many countries are moving in this direction,” Chu said. “The country, and Maine in particular, has enormous promise for wind energy.”
The consortium will be called the University of Maine DeepCwind Deepwater Offshore Wind Consortium.
The Department of Energy grant money, along with some of the anticipated $5 million congressional appropriation, will go toward the design and deployment of two 10-kilowatt and one 100-kilowatt floating offshore turbine prototypes.
The 100-kilowatt model will be roughly one-third the size of a standard 300-foot high turbine, while the 10-kilowatt models will be about one-fourth the standard 80- to 100-foot size.One 10-kilowatt turbine will be located at an offshore test site in the Isle of Shoals near the Maine-New Hampshire border.
The other 10-kilowatt turbine and the 100-kilowatt turbine will be located at one of seven Maine areas currently being considered for five offshore wind turbine sites, one of which will be operated by UMaine. The potential sites include areas off Cutler and Jonesport in Washington County, south of Isle au Haut, and near Matini-cus, Monhegan, Damariscove and Boon islands. Damariscove is off Boothbay Harbor and Boon Island is off Cape Neddick in York County.
The projects will not go forward without local approval.
Dagher has said the turbines would be far enough offshore so they could not be seen from land.
With the grant money, the Advanced Structures and Composites Center and other consortium members intend to experiment with designs for floating platforms by evaluating options for durable, light hybrid composite materials, the manufacturability of the platforms, and deployment logistics.
The grant also will fund educational initiatives such as a model Master of Science Degree in Renewable Energy and the Environment, with a focus on deepwater wind energy, and a new undergraduate minor in deepwater wind energy.
The DOE announcement came about 4½ months after a June meeting among Dagher, Chu and the Maine congressional delegation. The Maine group requested $20 million in federal economic stimulus funds for a wind research center.
Collins said Thursday she wasn’t disappointed in receiving less than half of the requested funding from the Department of Energy.
“There’s no disappointment at all, because the $8 million will be supplemented by the $5 million that I secured through the appropriations process, and the state has also pledged funding,” she said. “So the combination should be very close, or even exceed the $20 million.”
Dagher said the state will vote next June on a $6 million bond to develop offshore wind test sites.
Late last month, Baldacci traveled to Europe with a group of business leaders to meet with wind power industry representatives there in an effort to attract more interest in the state. The group came back with an agreement with StatoilHydro, a Norwegian firm, to explore the possibility of using the firm’s offshore turbines in the Gulf of Maine.The UMaine grant, which was awarded as part of a competition among other university consortia, was announced along with $8 million DOE grants for on-shore wind-power projects at the University of Minnesota and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Bangor Daily News reporters Kevin Miller and Bill Trotter contributed to this report