New details on UMaine’s offshore project could be released by week’s end

A worker awaits the word to power up VolturnUS, the first-of-its-kind wind turbine, designed and built at the University of Maine, which became the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the Americas to provide electricity to the power grid in June.
A worker awaits the word to power up VolturnUS, the first-of-its-kind wind turbine, designed and built at the University of Maine, which became the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the Americas to provide electricity to the power grid in June. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 17, 2013, at 12:04 p.m.

State energy regulators with the Maine Public Utilities Commission are on the verge of publicly releasing details of a proposal by Maine Aqua Ventus, a public-private consortium led by the University of Maine.

The consortium, which includes several Maine companies, including the Cianbro Corp., is applying for federal research and development funding through the U.S. Department of Energy.

It hopes to develop the first full-scale floating wind turbines in the U.S. off the coast of Maine’s Monhegan Island. The proposal features two 6-megawatt turbines about 2½ miles offshore.

The project is the next step in the development of the state’s offshore wind capabilities, which recently led to a 1:8-scale model of VolturnUS being deployed in the water in Castine Harbor.

The Maine PUC hopes to release a draft term sheet that would outline a power-purchase agreement to show what Maine ratepayers will pay for power from the project if it moves forward, said Harry Lamphear, a spokesman for the PUC.

A valid power-purchase agreement with state regulators is one requirement for the federal grant.

The project is among six offshore wind proposals around the country that are competing for three $46.6 million federal grants, said Jeff Thaler, a lawyer working on the project for the consortium.

Earlier this month, Maine Aqua Ventus released additional details about the project, but key factors such as cost, projected job creation and economic impact remained confidential.

The project, dubbed Maine Aqua Ventus I is the pilot for the potential development of a 100- to 500-megawatt offshore facility in the Gulf of Maine.

Thaler said the ultimate goal is to achieve wind-generated electricity at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour by the mid-2020s.

Thaler said he believes Maine’s project, with a power-purchase agreement in hand, has a good chance of being successful in the competition for federal funds.

It’s a sentiment shared by Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, and state Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

Woodcock said while he wasn’t directly involved in the consortium’s application to the DOE, he had been following it closely and believes they will put forward “a very competitive proposal.”

Both he and Cleveland voiced interest in seeing the details on the cost of power from the project.

“In the next week or so, we will learn what is the price and what are all the other economic benefits for the state of Maine,” Woodcock said.

He said securing the federal grant was instrumental in moving the state forward with offshore wind.

“I think lost in this debate is that whoever gets the Department of Energy funding will leapfrog forward in the development of offshore wind,” Woodcock said. “So positioning the state for that grant is absolutely critical.”

Cleveland said he believed the consortium’s project would advance several important innovations, both in design and material use, that would make the project appealing to the DOE.

The federal government also might look favorably on the idea that the consortium is largely U.S.-based companies, which as the technology is advanced, could lead to economic growth and job creation here, rather than in a foreign country, Cleveland said.

 

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