June 24, 2018
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Keep investment at home: Why UMaine should compete for the offshore wind energy project

Maine Senate Republicans | BDN
Maine Senate Republicans | BDN
Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is pictured at center in this 2012 photo.
By Michael Thibodeau, Special to the BDN

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, has been making the rounds in the media over the past week, suggesting that the governor and the Legislature have put a multimillion dollar offshore wind project in jeopardy by allowing the University of Maine to compete for the project along with Norwegian-based Statoil.

When it comes to the development of a renewable power project, is Alfond more comfortable with a multinational oil corporation?

He must be confused. In the past few weeks, the University of Maine and Maine workers have gained the chance to compete for this work alongside the foreign oil company.

Discussions about the deep-water offshore wind pilot project, which calls for a four-turbine wind facility that would be anchored off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, have been underway for years. Statoil had emerged as a leading candidate to build the floating platforms with the help of the University of Maine. But when it came time to submit bids for the project, Statoil decided to strike out on its own without the University of Maine and submit a plan that likely would have required the platforms built in Norway and then shipped to Maine.

The University of Maine, by contrast, has spent tens of millions of dollars working on a prototype for the offshore wind project that would allow floating platforms to be built in Maine, by Maine workers, potentially creating hundreds, if not thousands of jobs.

Late last month, the Legislature passed a bill that will allow the University of Maine to find partners to compete equally with Statoil for the project. The legislation passed unanimously in the Maine House of Representatives, and by a vote of 22-13 in the Senate, before being signed by the governor.

In addition to bringing work to this state instead of to a Scandinavian country, there’s a lot at stake for Maine with this project. Maine ratepayers are expected to spend $200 million over the next 20 years for the above-market rate of 27 cents per kilowatt hour that Statoil plans to charge for the offshore wind project. The University of Maine has indicated that its goal is to deliver it for as low as 10 cents.

Either way, it’s an expensive proposal for Maine ratepayers as the emerging field of renewable energy struggles to compete with the rates offered by traditional energy sources, such as hydropower and natural gas. But my feeling is that if we are going to commit to paying more for alternative energy projects, let’s keep the money right here in Maine and try to get the best deal for our ratepayers, and let’s determine if the home team can develop the technology itself.

Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is the Maine Senate Republican Leader.

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