ORONO, Maine — It turns out that a recent visit by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the University of Maine’s AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center was more than just a friendly tour.
Sen. Susan Collins announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Energy plans to invest $20 million to help develop and test deep-water offshore wind technologies. The award still needs approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee but the commitment marks the first time ever that the Energy Department has dedicated specific funding for deep-water offshore wind energy research and development. Collins was confident that the lion’s share of that $20 million would come to Maine.
A letter sent recently to Collins from an Energy Department official called Chu’s June 14 visit to UMaine “informative and inspiring.”
“We look forward to continuing our work together to harness the power of deepwater wind and pave the way for energy independence and job creation in Maine and across the country,” the letter further stated.
Habib Dagher, director of the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center, said construction already has begun on the offshore wind lab at UMaine.
“It truly is a game-changer for us,” Dagher said Friday by telephone from Lebanon, where he was visiting family. “[Chu] certainly made some quick decisions after his visit. He’s a true scientist at heart, so it was wonderful to have him support this.”
Collins, a longtime supporter of the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine, said she was delighted by the funding commitment and called it a “vital step that will help harness the vast potential of deepwater offshore wind energy and lead to the potential creation of some 15,000 new jobs.”
Previously, $25 million had been awarded to the offshore wind project, and an additional $11 million has been set aside from a bond that voters passed earlier this month.
“Momentum for deep-water offshore wind energy [research and development] continues to grow, with UMaine at the forefront of this important work,” UMaine President Robert Kennedy said in a statement. “We are excited about the incredible potential associated with harnessing this resource to create clean energy and clean jobs for Maine while also fostering opportunities for UMaine students both now and in the years to come.”
Added Gov. John Baldacci: “Maine is well-positioned to compete for these federal resources because of the leadership we have built over the course of the past two years on deep-water offshore wind energy development.”
Dagher said the collaborative nature of the offshore wind project — more than 30 companies are involved — was an easy sell. He also said the recent bond question passed by Maine voters that included funding for offshore wind was a testament to the state’s commitment.
The offshore wind project would create a new technology using some of Maine’s traditional industries such as forestry, shipbuilding, manufacturing and seafaring. The center, in collaboration with a consortium of businesses, is working to design, build and test floating platforms to support 300-foot towers with 200-foot blades in waters up to 3,000 feet deep more than 20 miles offshore.
Phase One of the project, partially funded by the bond, is considered to be the test phase. A floating wind turbine prototype, built to one-third the scale of the final product, would be deployed off Monhegan Island next year. In Phase Two, the first full-scale model would be built and tested by 2014.
The third phase calls for a steppingstone floating wind farm of five windmills to be tested between 2014 and 2016. The next phase could expand the test farm to a commercial farm between 2018 and 2020. The final phase, projected to be completed by 2030, would create a network of floating farms and is projected to attract $20 billion in investment money to Maine and create between 7,000 and 15,000 jobs each year.