CONTRIBUTORS

Public Utilities Commission decision proves Senate Republicans were right about offshore wind project

Posted Jan. 15, 2014, at 10:33 a.m.
George Danby

For months now, we have been listening to Senate President Justin Alfond and other Democrats cry crocodile tears about Norwegian-based Statoil having to compete with the University of Maine to build an offshore wind project off the Maine coast. Listening to the president you would have thought Statoil was Santa Claus bringing every Mainer free energy rather than the Norwegian oil behemoth asking for $200 million from Maine.

Maine’s Public Utilities Commission has now given approval to the UMaine proposal, and the people of this state are much better off for it.

Maine Senate Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage led the push to reopen the bidding process to allow the University of Maine a shot at this huge contract. This inspired Alfond to fire off a vitriolic column to a newspaper in which he declared the governor “turned away hundreds of millions of dollars in economic opportunity and denied hundreds of jobs to Maine people, and he sent the message that Maine is an unwelcome place to do business.”

Alfond could not have been more wrong, and an economic analysis of the offshore wind project that was recently released proves it. The university proposal is better in every respect: cost, jobs, innovation and furthering our state’s next generation.

Jobs

Maine stands to add far more jobs and save ratepayers much more money on their electric bills with the University of Maine project than they would have with the Statoil proposal, according to the term sheet from the University of Maine’s Aqua Ventus 1 project. Statoil’s project called for charging ratepayers 27 cents per kilowatt hour, while UMaine’s will cost 24 cents per hour. That’s about a 12 percent decrease.

Statoil’s proposal came with the promise of 150 full- and part-time jobs that would have gone along with the construction of their offshore wind platform. The University of Maine project will bring 371 jobs. And while Statoil pledged to “reasonably commit” to Maine businesses for the work, the UMaine proposal that is now in front of the Public Utilities Commission guarantees that 50 percent of the work will go to Maine businesses.

Education

Moreover, the University of Maine, unlike Statoil, has committed to providing education to Maine high school students on the work that will be done off the Maine coast and to coordinate directly with the university on research.

Aqua Ventus 1 also calls for providing free electricity to Monhegan Island, which is in the vicinity of where the wind platforms will operate. There was no such proposal from Statoil.

Given all of these clear advantages of the University of Maine’s proposal over Statoil’s, it is inconceivable that Alfond would throw all of his support behind a Norwegian oil company instead of our own university (which bears his family name on athletic fields and academic buildings) and Maine workers.

It took leadership from Republicans in the Maine Senate, led by Sen. Ed Youngblood who serves on the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, to allow the state of Maine to reconsider what had been a hasty decision to only consider one bid for the offshore wind project. Had it not been for our efforts, we would now be stuck with an inferior proposal.

It seems that Alfond and the rest of Democratic leadership were so invested in partisan politics that they were unable to see the advantages of having the platforms for this project be built right here in Maine instead of in a Scandinavian country.

The economic analysis shows that giving this work to the University of Maine is a huge win for Maine. Yet Alfond has chosen to fight the UMaine proposal every step of the way. I believe this is a failure of leadership and vision. Now that we know the facts, I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will get behind our own University of Maine’s Aqua Ventus 1.

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

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