BRISTOL, Maine — Residents of Bristol, where electricity from a proposed offshore wind energy project would be delivered to the mainland, want the project’s developers to provide some specific benefit to the town to offset potential harm to fishing grounds and scenery.
Andrea Cox, chairwoman of Bristol’s Wind Power Advisory Committee, said Thursday that the group will likely request that the developer, Maine Aqua Ventus, consider a “community benefit agreement” that would provide the town with free electricity to the local school or additional educational opportunities for students. Maine Aqua Ventus has already offered free electricity to customers on Monhegan Island, which is 2.5 miles from the project’s proposed location.
In January, Maine Aqua Ventus received approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission to move forward with a pilot project using a 270-foot-tall, two-turbine wind tower on a floating concrete base tethered 10 miles off the coast of Bristol. It would be built using the University of Maine’s VolturnUS technology.
The project would be the first offshore wind energy generation project in the Gulf of Maine.
Energy from the pilot project would be transmitted to the mainland by a four- to six-inch underwater cable that would come ashore in Bristol.
In December, after residents of Bristol questioned the impact of the turbines on the wildlife, shellfish habitat and general scenery on their town — and the fact that Maine Aqua Ventus plans to provide free electricity to the residents of Monhegan Island for 20 years — Bristol selectmen formed a committee to consider what the project might offer them.
“We want to know if there’s going to be any benefit in this town,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Bill Benner said at the time. “And we want to know what it’s going to do to the environment.”
Fishermen are concerned that the cable would disrupt known fishing grounds off the town and would require them to lift their drags for about 300 feet to avoid snagging the cable.
Jake Ward, vice president for innovation and development at the University of Maine, said Monday that while plans for the project are still preliminary, “the preferred route” for the cable is to travel in from Monhegan, along the east coast of the Bristol peninsula and come ashore to travel, buried, up Route 130 to a substation in Bristol.
Maine Aqua Ventus representatives have met with fishermen to hear what Ward described as “legitimate concerns,” but he said the disrupted area “is a pretty small footprint when it comes right down to it.”
Maine Aqua Ventus is surveying the area “to try to find routes that would keep the cable flat and as close to the bottom as possible,” Ward said. “We just don’t have the full engineering done yet to be able to say, ‘These are the options.’”
Ward said the project will provide the town with new property tax revenue. As for providing other benefits to Bristol, he said, “If there’s an opportunity for something else, we’re open to that, but it’s too early for us to get into those deeper discussions.”
Maine Aqua Ventus continues to wait to hear if the project qualifies for a $47 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Ward said that if federal funding is approved, the cable would be laid in 2016 or early 2017.
“We’re very pleased that Bristol has put the committee together,” Ward said. “It gives us an entry point to have conversations. It’s very healthy.”