ORONO, Maine — During a visit to the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center on Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar vowed to do all he could to smooth Maine’s path toward offshore wind farms.
“Maine isn’t playing around,” Salazar said after completing a tour of the Offshore Wind Laboratory, an expansion to the Advanced Structures and Composites Center that will open officially in November.
“Maine is the only state moving forward with the kind of progress we see in this lab,” he said to a crowd of university officials, graduate students, researchers and others working on the project.
Salazar, who leads the Department of the Interior and is responsible for the management and conservation of federal land, resources and water, arrived at the university in a small convoy of three SUVs. After shaking hands and being introduced to several people wearing suits, Salazar stepped into the UMaine facility wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, black cowboy boots and a baseball cap.
Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, guided Salazar around the facility, explaining the technology behind developments such as the Bridge-in-a-Backpack and blast-resistant tents. The Offshore Wind Laboratory was the focus of the tour, with displays set up by graduate assistants and researchers who have been working on the project.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who invited Salazar to tour the facility, was at his side throughout the event. Collins and Salazar, a former senator from Colarado, served on opposite sides of the aisle in the U.S. Senate from 2005 to 2009.
UMaine President Paul Ferguson, Maine Office of Energy Independence Director Ken Fletcher and Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Corp., also attended the event.
Dagher led Salazar and Collins through the facility, explaining how it would be the launching point for testing a one-third-scale offshore wind turbine model that will be set up 2½ miles south of Monhegan Island in July 2012. The hope is that this will lead to a large-scale wind farm in the Gulf of Maine by 2017.
“This lab has caught the inspiration and imagination of the world,” Salazar said.
Salazar and Collins said that Maine was the only state in which this sort of large-scale floating wind turbine project would be viable. The Gulf of Maine is shallow enough that turbines can be anchored to the seafloor, and the wind is strong enough and persistent enough to produce reliable energy.
Salazar said the Department of the Interior would throw its full support behind the project and the he would do all he could to keep bureaucracy out of the way of the offshore wind efforts.
He said he would try to clear any roadblocks that might stand in the way of the plan to lease the federally owned water to the developers.
“I don’t want to wait six months and I don’t want to wait a year,” Salazar said. “Time is of the essence.”
“We want to see all this happen and to be here to celebrate with you,” Salazar said.