One day, there will be an offshore wind energy industry in the United States. Maine can either prepare for it now — by fostering a stable environment for related business, technology and education growth — or lose later. New industries with potential to create thousands of jobs do not come to the Pine Tree State often.
Despite some setbacks, Maine is on its way. The Maine Aqua Ventus 1 pilot project is a promise of a potential industry. Foster it responsibly.
First, there was a one-fiftieth scale model of an offshore wind turbine. Then, there was a one-eighth scale model. Now, the partnership of construction firm Cianbro Corp., energy developer Emera and Maine Prime Technologies, which is a spinoff of the University of Maine, wants to bring the model full-scale. If it can construct two 6-megawatt offshore wind turbines off Monhegan, it would then pursue a larger wind farm.
The real benefit of this two-turbine phase is what it can yield later on. During five years of planning and construction, it’s estimated a full-scale, 500-megawatt offshore wind turbine project would create $338 million in economic output and 3,077 full- and part-time jobs, according to economics professor Todd Gabe of the University of Maine. The ongoing, annual statewide economic impact of 17 turbines is an estimated $240.4 million and 1,602 full- and part-time jobs.
The economic impact and job potential for Maine would increase drastically if the turbines were manufactured here. Think: 4,663 full- and part-time jobs.
Any industry starts small and grows. Along the way, it must be cared for. To be successful, Maine’s future offshore wind energy industry needs long-term political stability and support. It needs vision and continued collaboration.
Maine Aqua Ventus’ proposal — awaiting approval by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and then funding through a U.S. Department of Energy competitive grant process — describes not just how it will create jobs and generate economic return through its construction projects but how it will create a framework for the long-term cultivation of an industry.
That framework includes hiring mostly Maine workers and firms, creating education programs to teach the skills needed to support offshore wind development and operation, and strengthening the supply chain with workshops and specialized training events.
But while Maine Aqua Ventus can and should lay this foundation, much more will be needed from players across the state and region.
First, the state and federal governments must stick to long-term, supportive energy policies. Uncertainty makes it difficult to plan multi-million-dollar projects.
Second, leaders across New England should talk about how they can best foster the industry together. Does a statement of cooperation among the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont indicate an openness to create a comprehensive regional policy for offshore wind? For example, they might discuss how to lay the groundwork to potentially merge buying power in the future, to create the demand needed for a turbine manufacturer in the region — or, better yet, in Maine.
Last, another hurdle that cannot be understated is public acceptance. If Maine residents are not open to the potential changes to their coast and ocean, the offshore wind industry won’t happen. Any development must be willing to adapt to the valid concerns of residents. They must have a say. Because, in the end, the industry should be theirs to maintain and benefit from.
The process will be slow, laborious. But if Maine doesn’t plan now how best to foster a burgeoning industry, it won’t reap the benefits.