EDITORIALS

Maine can’t afford a second colossal mistake on offshore wind energy

Posted May 05, 2017, at 6:14 a.m.
Last modified May 05, 2017, at 1:01 p.m.

Lawmakers, pushed by Gov. Paul LePage, made the horrible decision in 2013 to push a potential $70 million worth of potential investment in clean energy away from Maine. The current Legislature should not make an even worse mistake this year.

A bill under consideration by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee would require that an offshore wind test project be moved away from Monhegan Island. This would undo years worth of research, jeopardize $40 million in federal funding that is headed to Maine and, once again, prove that the state is not an honest partner in business dealings.

LD 1262 would kill a decades-long University of Maine energy research and development project by disallowing its use of a state-designated test area off Monhegan Island to test two full-scale wind energy-generating turbines. It would be the first test of floating turbines in North America. There are numerous wind farms in Europe, but they use turbines that are fixed to the seafloor. This limits their placement to near shore, where the wind is less powerful.

If the Maine test, which will use a university-patented technology, is successful, it could propel the state to a leadership role in offshore wind energy, which could mean more investment and much-needed jobs.

Three test areas off the Maine coast were designated by the state in 2009, after a lengthy review process that included 25 meetings with local officials, commercial fishermen and others in communities along the coast. There were also five public hearings. The Monhegan site, about 2½ miles off the Lincoln County island, was designated for use by the University of Maine System for testing of prototype and full-scale wind energy generation facilities.

Voters, in 2010, approved a $26.5 million bond that included money for an offshore wind demonstration site.

In 2014, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved an agreement between Central Maine Power Co. and the Maine Aqua Ventus project, the name of the University of Maine test project, under which CMP would buy power generated by the project for 20 years.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy picked the UMaine project as one of two — out of 70 — slated to receive $40 million in federal funding if they clear several hurdles by early next year. The university is continuing to conduct environmental impact studies and working toward obtaining state and federal permits.

Now, this is all in jeopardy.

The bill’s only sponsor, Republican Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro, said the turbines must be moved to protect the scenic beauty that draws visitors to Monhegan and to preserve the island’s culture.

That culture includes some of the highest electricity bills in the state. Monhegan residents now pay about 70 cents per kilowatt hour for power, which comes from a diesel generator on the island. Under the terms of the PUC order, during the test phase, which lasts for 20 years, island residents will receive free electricity from the project or another benefit the community choses.

Longer-term, Aqua Ventus hopes to lower the price of electricity from its project to 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour, making offshore wind power a viable source of electricity to power vehicles and to heat homes.

The two turbines will be visible from three houses on Monhegan. The owners, including famed painter Jamie Wyeth, are supportive of the UMaine project. So is the Monhegan Fishermen’s Alliance, which represents the island’s lobstermen.

“Change is hard to accept when one loves a place and has known it for a long time. But we can no longer think of ourselves only,” Robin McCoy, a seasonal Monhegan resident and granddaughter of painter N.C. Wyeth, told committee members on Tuesday.

She warned lawmakers that if they pass LD 1262, they will not only force UMaine to lose $40 million, they will “end Maine’s bid for leadership in an industry that is already becoming competitive as a clean … alternative to coal and natural gas.”

The Monhegan Island saga is reminiscent of the backroom dealing in 2013 that lead Statoil, which has proposed a wind energy project off the coast of Boothbay, to abandon Maine. It has since built offshore energy-generation facilities in Scotland and may soon do so in other states.

Even though the PUC approved a contract with Statoil, LePage convinced lawmakers to renege on the deal in favor of supporting the UMaine project. Now, he is also in favor of pulling the rug out from under that project as well.

Lawmakers must reject LD 1262 or risk reminding the world that Maine is not serious about reducing energy prices and is not a place with consistent rules for doing business.

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