UM fund to honor late ocean energy visionary

Posted Jan. 23, 2011, at 8:10 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A generous donation from the family of the late Matthew R. Simmons, the founder and chairman of the Ocean Energy Institute, along with all the gifts from friends and colleagues given to OEI in his memory, will create opportunities for the University of Maine to further the OEI objectives rooted in his visionary perspectives on the vast potential of ocean resources to provide clean energy options.

UM will establish a Matthew R. Simmons Ocean Energy Initiative Fund in its development office to pick up the OEI mantle and support work that will advance ocean energy research and development, education, commercialization and outreach efforts.

The Ocean Energy Institute itself will cease operations Jan. 31.

Simmons founded OEI in 2007 to create a think tank to promote the various forms of ocean energy. He was a leading oil and gas energy investment banker who saw the need for renewable ocean energy to help reduce the world’s dependency on supply-dependent fossil fuels.

Simmons, 67, an energy investment banker who became an advocate for alternative energy, died Aug. 8, 2010, at his North Haven island home. The founder of Houston-based Simmons & Co. International wrote the 2005 book “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” raising concerns about Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves and laying out his theory that the world was approaching peak oil production.

His death constituted a “major loss” for the institute, according to managing director Robert West.

“Matt was an internationally known visionary leader and a major supporter of renewable energy efforts,” West said. “This collaboration with UMaine will serve as a fitting tribute and will provide useful ways for OEI and its advocates to support UMaine’s internationally recognized ocean energy research initiatives.”

UM’s relevant key initiatives include its central place in the DeepCwind Consortium, which brings together private sector concerns, nonprofits and universities to further establish Maine’s national leadership role in deep-water offshore wind research and technology development.

“Matt’s leadership was instrumental in focusing attention and resources on ocean-based energy sources,” said UMaine President Robert Kennedy, who is an OEI board member. “The initiative that bears his name will help us foster the collaborative arrangements involving public and private sector entities that will help our state continue as an established leader in this vital area. We are proud to continue OEI’s work, and we are most thankful for the generosity of Ellen Simmons, the entire Simmons family and all those associated with OEI.”

OEI will close its Rockland offices and will transfer all its assets, including Matthew Simmons’ library of works, to UM’s AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center, which is home to UM’s research and development activity in deep-water offshore wind.

“We will continue to forge ahead with Matt’s vision to create ocean energy opportunities for our state, nation and world,” said Habib Dagher, director of the UM center and the DeepCwind Consortium.

“Matt was a wonderful friend, a brilliant businessman and a great leader with whom we shared a common vision. We are particularly thankful to the Simmons family for entrusting us to carry on Matt’s legacy.”

Among its accomplishments since 2007, the Ocean Energy Institute was instrumental in identifying the vast potential for offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine and in advocating for its development and use for the benefit of the people of Maine.

OEI’s and UM’s early findings spurred the establishment of the Ocean Energy Task Force in 2008-09, leading to policy, legislation and the establishment of offshore ocean energy test sites. OEI supported the early development of the DeepCwind program at UM. Its efforts were recognized in June, when Simmons and the Institute received the 2010 Energy Ocean Pioneer Award for Education. UM received that same award in 2009.

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