May 21, 2018
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With Statoil gone, Maine needs to rally around Aqua Ventus

By Paul Williamson, Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative

There has been much said about the terminated Statoil offshore wind project in the last few weeks, with months of additional comment leading up to this period. Yes, it is a lost opportunity to build business relationships with a global economic powerhouse. Yes, the loss to our local economy is substantial.

I had hoped we could maintain support for multiple offshore wind projects in Maine. We still have opportunities to attract renewable energy investment to our state, so it is important to reflect on what has happened and learn our lessons from the episode.

But at this point we must look forward and focus on the positive. We have a local team that is developing some fantastic technology that could lead to a new energy economy revolution. Our state cannot afford to lose two offshore wind opportunities. We need to rally support of the business and political community to ensure the Aqua Ventus project, which is a collaboration among the University of Maine, Cianbro and Emera, has the opportunity to achieve its full potential.

There have been calls for the release of additional information from the project. At some point the project will need to provide additional details, as it is seeking financial support from public sources. However, the public also needs to be patient and allow careful consideration of how and when that information is released to protect intellectual property concerns. At this point there is no harm done by allowing the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Aqua Ventus team ample time to work with careful consideration.

Additionally, as the project moves forward greater information will be available regarding opportunities for Maine businesses to participate in the future development of this technology.

There are those that would argue that the investment in offshore wind and renewable energy is too expensive for our state. I am reminded of a time earlier in my life when I studied Scottish industrial history. At the beginning of the 20th century Scotland was the world leader in heavy steel ship construction. They had perfected building techniques to produce the highest quality ships in the world. Efforts to introduce light steel and aluminum manufacturing were shunned by the industry leaders as unnecessary investments. By the 1930s transportation by large steel ships was on the decline after the advent of auto and air transportation. Riveted shipbuilding was replaced by welding technologies. Because Scotland did not reinvest in new technology, it is still struggling to recover from the loss of its steel manufacturing industry.

Maine’s heritage industries are in decline. There are some highlights of new technology development that is advancing and sustaining some of our industries. Yet Maine cannot rely on our heritage industries without new investments. Our world is in the midst of an energy economy revolution. This revolution will take decades to play out. If we don’t make investments now to be part of the new energy economy, Maine will find itself licking the wounds of economic loss in the same way Scotland has done for the last half century.

We have two opportunities before us. The first is to support the Aqua Ventus project so that it will continue to advance with the chance of providing a new technological revolution created in Maine. The second is to do everything we can to encourage additional investment in renewable energy in Maine.

Let us not stick our heads in the sand wishing for better days in the past. It is time for Maine to stand and lead.

Paul Williamson is director of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative.

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