I’m Not Dead Yet! Massive Maine Offshore Wind Energy Project Clings To Life

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Despite the best efforts of Governor Paul LePage, Maine’s offshore wind energy industry appears to be one step closer to getting off the drawing board and into the chilly waters. Maine’s Press Herald is reporting that the University of Maine has received a relatively modest Energy Department grant of $3.7 million to continue work on the experimental Maine Aqua Ventus I floating wind energy pilot project, the hoped-for precursor to an entire 500-megawatt floating wind farm.

Maine Aqua Ventus is a sister project to the UMaine’s 1/8-scale VolturnUS floating wind turbine prototype. Though “just” a prototype, Volturn has already staked claim to the title of first grid-connected floating wind turbine in the US, and if all goes well it looks like Aqua Ventus won’t be far behind.

offshore wind energy floating turbine

More Bucks For Floating Wind Energy

Maine is no stranger to onshore wind farms, but it’s a small state and land based sites are limited. The real action is in the notoriously windy waters offshore, which have been compared to the energy of 150 typical nuclear power plants (two would suffice for the entire state). The hitch is that unlike its Atlantic Coast neighbors to the south, Maine’s coastal waters are not particularly amenable to conventional offshore wind turbine construction.

That’s where the floating angle comes in. Back in 2012 CleanTechnica took note when the UMaine sponsored a floating wind turbine design contest for high school students, with the winner dubbed the “Floating Beast.” Since then UMaine has been very busy. The school leads the DeepCWind Consortium, with this mission:

…to establish the State of Maine as a national leader in deepwater offshore wind technology through a research initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and others. The University of Maine-led consortium includes universities, nonprofits, and utilities; a wide range of industry leaders in offshore design, offshore construction, and marine structures manufacturing; firms with expertise in wind project siting, environmental analysis, environmental law, composites materials to assist in corrosion-resistant material design and selection, and energy investment; and industry organizations to assist with education and tech transfer activities.

The DeepCWind Consortium consists of approximately 30 members around the country, including two universities, two nonprofits, and a diverse group of industry leaders.

The grant of $3.7 million follows a $3 million grant awarded just over a year ago (and a $4 million grant before that), with the aim of enabling Aqua Ventus to get to the “front-end” engineering design of the turbine platform, as well as to develop and validate a manufacturing plan for the project overall. The ultimate goal is a pilot wind farm off the island Monhegan.

As reported by the Press Herald, the new Aqua Ventus grant is something of a consolation prize. Last year Aqua Ventus contended for a one-third share of a $141 million Energy Department grant, but it went to three other cutting-edge offshore wind energy projects instead.

Speaking of Monhegan, if and when it is constructed the pilot wind farm could help provide the island’s residents with electricity rates less onerous than the current rate of 70 cents — yes 70 cents — per kilowatt hour.

The tradeoff could be a disruption in the sight line from this important tourist spot, at least temporarily. When Aqua Ventus received its earlier $3 million grant last year, the Bangor Daily News reported that the Monhegan wind farm might not come about after all.

However, the Daily News also reported that the ultimate goal of the UMaine consortium is a 500 megawatt wind farm farther out in the Gulf of Maine, about 2-1/2 miles south of the island. Though the turbines would top out at 526 feet from the water to the tip of a blade, making them among the world’s largest, they would not be visible from shore.

Despite some nerves over the location, the Daily News spoke with several full time residents who, with climate change in mind, were looking forward to the win-win prospects over the long run, since access to wind energy would wean the island from its current dependence on diesel generators (that explains the high electricity rate, btw).

Wind Energy Monkeywrenched By Governors

Maine’s LePage isn’t the only Atlantic Coast governor to shoot his (or her) own offshore state’s wind energy potential in the foot, despite the enormous economic potential involved (guess why).

New Jersey, for example, was an initial signer of the 2010 Atlantic Coast Offshore Wind Energy Consortium, organized under the Department of the Interior to coordinate — and speed up — development of US offshore wind resources. In 2010 the New Jersey State Legislature also directed the state’s Board of Public Utilities to implement a new law calling for the development of 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind energy.

However, during his tenure New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has let the state’s interest in offshore wind energy drift (guess why), even while nearby Rhode Island provides a nifty demonstration of the job-creating potential involved in offshore wind energy projects.

Last year the company Fishermen’s Energy won a $47 million share of the Energy Department grant that Aqua Ventus missed, aimed at building a demonstration scale wind farm off the New Jersey Coast by Atlantic City. That should have accelerated the project into the go zone, but for reasons not fully explained the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities denied approval for the proposal.

The company appealed BPU’s decision to the state’s Supreme Court this summer and lost its case last month, but as with Aqua Ventus it appears that news of the project’s death may be premature.

Fishermen’s Energy redesigned the project and in the latest development just last week, the New Jersey State Assembly began setting the wheels in motion to require BPU to solicit new proposals for offshore wind energy.

Stay tuned.

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Photo credit (screen shot): via Maine Aqua Ventus.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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