June 21, 2018
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Maine floating turbine research on track as new study pushes offshore wind

University of Maine photo | AP
University of Maine photo | AP
In this August 2011 photo provided by the University of Maine, Habib Dagher (left), director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center, shows U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins a scale model of a floating wind turbine in Orono, Maine.
By Robert Long, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — A consortium of environmental groups released a report Thursday touting the value of offshore wind power along the Atlantic seaboard and urges federal and state governments to act aggressively to support its development, even as Maine researchers are moving toward placing a scale model of a floating turbine in the Gulf of Maine next spring.

Catherine Bowes and Justin Allegro of the National Wildlife Federation wrote the new report, titled “The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy.” Representatives from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Environment Maine, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Maine AFL-CIO attended a press conference to make the report public on Thursday morning.

“Congress is now debating whether to continue huge subsidies for big oil and gas, and whether to extend support for clean renewable energy sources like wind,” Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a release announcing the report. “In Maine, we are fortunate to have a large, untapped potential for clean, homegrown, offshore wind power. Maine people, businesses and workers agree that offshore wind power can help Maine people and our economy and environment as we cut our addiction to dirty, imported fossil fuels.”

The report notes that the United States generates no power from offshore wind at present, but that “recent actions by the federal government, along with bipartisan leadership from coastal state officials, have put critical building blocks in place —– bringing us closer than ever before to finally tapping this massive domestic energy source.”

Progress reports on offshore wind development in 10 Atlantic Coast states and a discussion of how to develop offshore wind farms without threatening wildlife are included in the 54-page document.

Among the report’s recommendations are to elevate the Department of Energy’s scenario for achieving 54 gigawatts of cost-effective offshore wind energy by 2030 as a national priority; codify goals for renewable energy generation; extend tax incentives including the federal Investment Tax Credit for offshore wind, the Production Tax Credit and Advanced Energy Project Credit; take direct action to secure buyers for offshore wind power; increase funding to the U.S. Energy and Interior departments and relevant state agencies to support research and deployment of offshore wind energy; enact strict pollution reduction policies related to all power sources; and coordinate offshore wind energy development decisions with federal, state, tribal and regional coastal and marine spatial planning efforts “in a manner that is consistent with the goals of America’s National Ocean Policy.”

The effort to generate power from wind in the Gulf of Maine continues to focus on floating turbines, according to Dr. Habib Dagher of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, where research and development of model floating turbines continues through a consortium known as DeepCwind.

Firms such as Cianbro and Bath Iron Works have committed more than $30 million in private funding to the public-private partnership, according to Dagher. If it gains the required permits, the consortium plans to place a ⅛-scale model of a floating turbine in the Gulf of Maine next spring, Dagher said.

After initial research, development and installation costs, floating wind turbines will eventually produce wind energy at a lower cost than the fixed units used in offshore European sites and land-based wind energy farms, Dagher said.

In August, Gov. Paul LePage criticized the cost of wind energy in general and called it a “boutique energy source.”

Dagher told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that, while “nascent technologies” such as offshore wind power need to be “incentivized,” his team and LePage share the same goal, which is to “create jobs and reduce costs.”

“The goal of the research is to get the cost of the energy to be competitive,” Dagher said, noting that his team has been working closely with Ken Fletcher, director of Maine’s Office of Energy Independence and Security.

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management continues to accept comments on an application by Statoil North America to move ahead with plans to construct a floating wind farm off the coast of Maine. The federal agency set an Oct. 9 deadline for potential competitors for the Statoil project to express interest in any of the 22 square miles that Statoil proposes to lease for offshore wind energy production in federal waters off Maine.

Comments on potential environmental impacts can be submitted through Nov. 8.

“The fact that StatOil has applied to build four floating turbines in the deep waters off Maine’s coast shows that our state is a center of gravity for progress on offshore wind. We’ve gotten this far thanks to the leadership of the Ocean Energy Task Force and the Legislature. Now it’s time to move full steam ahead — for Maine’s environment, economy, and energy independence,” Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, said in a Natural Resources Council of Maine release about the report.

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