BOOTHBAY, Maine — A Norwegian company’s bid to create a pilot deep-water wind project 12 nautical miles off the coast of Boothbay drew more than 70 people to a meet-and-greet Monday where most of the attendees were in favor of the idea.
Statoil North America, which is a subsidiary of a huge European energy company whose primary focus is petroleum products, has applications pending with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and a proposal with the Maine Public Utilities Commission to build four floating wind turbines in federal waters off the coast of Maine in 2016. The company, which calls its project “Hywind Maine,” also is seeking permission to connect to the ISO New England power grid.
The company has leased a 22-square-mile plot of ocean where it hopes to build four 3-megawatt turbines in about 500 feet of water. Monday’s event, where Statoil officials mingled with the crowd and distributed information but didn’t stage a formal presentation, wasn’t required but held in an effort to “open a dialogue with the public,” according to spokeswoman Kari Hege Mork.
Similar sessions are scheduled for Tuesday in Rockland and Wednesday in Portland.
A majority of the attendees were local residents but there was also a strong showing of fishermen as well as state and local officials. Among them was David Tew of West Boothbay, whose home faces the proposed test site, though he expects the towers would be mere specks on the horizon.
“I’m all in favor,” he said. “I think it would be a good use of the infrastructure in our state.”
In addition to world-class winds that blow over the Atlantic near coastal Maine, a major advantage of putting the project near Boothbay is nearby access to the electrical grid that used to connect to the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant and the former oil-powered Mason Station power generator in Wiscasset.
Bob Faunce, a planner who works for the Lincoln County government, said any new economic activity would be welcome in a largely rural county sandwiched between more bustling areas to the north and south. He said one question on a lot of minds is where cables from the distant wind turbines would come ashore.
“I hope they go forward with the testing phase,” he said.
Roland Miller of Boothbay Harbor agreed.
“Free energy. It’s just a good idea,” said Miller. “There are a lot of poor people in the state of Maine and cheap electricity would be good for the state.”
Ken Fletcher, director of Gov. Paul LePage’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, said he and the LePage administration support the project in concept, but not just because it’s wind power. Fletcher said the project is essentially about research and development and should be explored along with other solutions to Maine’s overdependence on foreign oil.
“We just think it’s important that these conversations take place,” said Fletcher. “This is the beginning of a long process.”
Statoil officials agreed that there are a lot of requirements to be met before the project becomes a reality and that it is by no means a certainty at this point.
Kristin Aamodt, Statoil’s Hywind project manager, said the company will rely on federal grants to get the project in the water.
Aamodt said she heard a range of reactions to the proposal Monday night, including from lobstermen in the area. One of those lobstermen was Lawrence Pye of Phippsburg, who said his major concern is the unknown.
“We have a lot more questions than they have answers for at this point,” he said. “They say it’s a test site, but then what comes next?”
Mark Jones, who fishes for groundfish and lobster out of Boothbay, said he’s concerned about how the towers and associated cables will affect the marine environment. Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, echoed that concern.
“People just want to understand what this is going to mean for us,” said McCarron. “There’s not a lot of information out there at this point.”
Among the questions McCarron has are exactly where the towers will be located now and in the future, whether they’ll be over hard or soft portions of the ocean floor, and what effect the sound and vibration will have on sea life.
Despite her concerns, McCarron commended Statoil for holding the event at all.
“I’m encouraged,” she said. “They’re very approachable and very open.”
Statoil will hold similar sessions at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Rockland Public Library at 80 Union St. and at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute at 350 Commercial St. in Portland.