PORTLAND, Maine(NEWS CENTER) - Supporters of ocean wind power research for Maine say they hope two, seemingly competing projects can both win government support to move forward, despite some political controversy.
The University of Maine ocean wind research project is generating electricity and attention on Penobscot Bay near Castine. The so-called "Volturnus" floating turbine is a one-eighth scale model of the units the University hopes to deploy off the Maine coast in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian energy company called StatOil has its own project for Maine. StatOil built the world's first floating, full-size turbine several years ago in Norway. Now the company has a plan to install four similar turbines off the Maine coast, to prove the design in the Gulf of Maine.
The company is reported to also be looking at possible sites in Scotland and Japan, among other places.
But StatOil has put the Maine plans on hold, after the Legislature and Governor Lepage passed a special law that changes the rules for offshore wind research projects. StatOil was the only company to apply with the Maine PUC last year for a subsidized offshore wind project. The PUC approved a "term sheet" for the project, which used up all the subsidy funds available under Maine's 2009 ocean energy law. Governor LePage was unhappy with the electricity price proposed by StatOil for the project, and has been highly critical of the company's efforts. The University project wasn't sufficiently advanced to meet last year's PUC deadline, but now is.
So the Governor persuaded Republican and a few Democratic legislators to pass a law that re-opens the application process, and allows the University to also submit a proposal. The Maine PUC says it will review the University's proposal when it arrives, and then decide how to handle the two plans and the subsidy issue.
Supporters of offshore wind development say it holds tremendous potential for Maine, both in terms ofenergy production and the creation of new jobs. Paul Williamson, of the Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative, says Maine needs both projects to move forward. The University and StatOil are among seven groups competing for three $50 million grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, to promote offshore wind development. Williamson says Maine has been a leader in developing offshore wind, but that Japan has suddenly emerged as a serious challenger. He says that if Maine's ongoing R&D efforts in ocean wind don't get strong support, the state will likely lose the race to develop offshore wind technology and the jobs that could go with it.
University officials say they need to meet a September 1 deadline to submit their proposal to the Maine PUC. Both UM and StatOil, they say, will need to submit applications to the U.S. Department of Energy by the end of the year.
web link for UM Project: http://composites.umaine.edu