UMaine submits bid for floating wind turbine deal

VolturnUS, a wind turbine designed and built at the University of Maine, became the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the Americas to provide electricity to the power grid in June.
VolturnUS, a wind turbine designed and built at the University of Maine, became the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the Americas to provide electricity to the power grid in June. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 03, 2013, at 5:04 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine filed a bid with the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Aug. 30 to send long-term renewable energy produced by UMaine’s floating wind turbines to the state.

“UMaine believes this is a strong proposal from the newly formed Maine-based company Maine Aqua Ventus I GP LLC — a company formed by Cianbro, Emera and Maine Prime Technologies LLC, in addition to other partners — to commercialize UMaine floating wind turbine technology,” university spokeswoman Margaret Nagle said Tuesday in an email.

Details of that proposal are confidential because the commission is authorized under statute to “protect confidential commercial information from disclosure,” according to PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear. More information might be released after the commissioners consider the contract later this year, he said.

The university deployed a one-eighth-scale version of its VolturnUS turbine in May and connected the floating windmill to the U.S. power grid in June, marking the first time energy flowed into the country from offshore wind. That turbine will stay in the water until May 2014 as UMaine keeps track of its performance in the wind and waves.

The university ultimately hopes to scale up to a large farm of 6-megawatt offshore turbines, placed well out of view from shore, producing 5 gigawatts of energy by 2030. First would come a $96 million pilot farm in 2016 with two 6-megawatt turbines aimed at demonstrating the effectiveness of the full-scale versions of the turbines.

In 2010, the Maine Legislature enacted legislation that enabled the PUC to conduct a competitive bid process for long-term offshore wind development.

At the time of the initial bid process, the VolturnUS project was not far enough along for the university to compete. But the Legislature approved in June a bill by Gov. Paul LePage to reopen the process to allow UMaine to get involved. According to the PUC request for proposals, the term of the contract could be up to 20 years.

When the first legislation passed, it resulted in the approval of a Statoil North America plan to build a pilot 12-megawatt, four-turbine floating wind farm 10 miles off Boothbay Harbor. Statoil put all its plans in Maine on hold after LePage reopened the process, arguing the move effectively changed the rules midstream.

Habib Dagher, the man at the helm of UMaine’s wind energy efforts, has said the university isn’t opposed to Statoil’s plans and doesn’t view it as a competition. Dagher believes it “takes more than one horse” to get an industry started.

Now PUC staff will review UMaine’s proposal and ask for supplemental or clarifying information before asking UMaine to develop a term sheet or contract. A public version of that document may be released.

“It is too early in the process to determine precisely what type of comment process will occur,” Lanphear said.

The commission will decide whether to authorize a long-term contract for UMaine before Dec. 31.

BDN writer Mario Moretto contributed to this report.

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