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King pushes for offshore wind turbines

As governor, Angus King liked to pitch a big idea, like giving laptop computers to all seventh-graders.

Now, as a wind energy entrepreneur, he’s floating a whopper.

King said Tuesday that the state should launch a massive research and development effort to create a $15 billion network of offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine over the next 10 years. Only something as ambitious as 1,000 turbines spinning 26 miles off the Maine coast will be able to break the state’s reliance on oil and prevent an economic catastrophe, he said.

“The Gulf of Maine is the Saudi Arabia of wind,” King said. “There is nothing I’ve come across that has the large potential this has We need to be thinking big about this.”

King called for the wind power equivalent of the “Manhattan Project” during a lecture at Bowdoin College Tuesday evening, referring to the effort that produced the atomic bomb. He said such a “wind ranch” could provide all of Maine’s electricity, as well as heat for its homes and power for its cars.

King, who is now working on two conventional wind farm proposals in western Maine, did not say how such a massive project would be paid for, except that it will take government and private funding.

But he insisted that the price won’t look so daunting in 10 to 12 years as oil and gas prices triple. Oil could realistically cost $300 a barrel in 2020, he said.

“Filling up your (car’s gas) tank will be $200. To fill up the (heating oil) tank in your basement with oil – $2,000.” Maine, with its cold winters, will be uninhabitable, he said.

King’s idea is provocative, said Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and a leading wind energy advocate. “It’s a bigger concept than anybody’s talking about.”

Land-based wind projects are far more financially sound, he said. The technological challenges of building large floating platforms, among other things, means offshore wind power is at least 10 years away.

But, he said, “It makes sense to be looking for big solutions.”

David Wilby, director of the Independent Energy Producers of Maine, also was in the audience.

“I think there’s some real possibility there,” he said. “We just don’t have many other choices.”

King’s lecture comes at a historic time for wind energy in Maine. Several wind farms are in the works around the state and Maine’s Legislature approved a bill on Friday intended to streamline regulation and encourage more wind farms.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci plans to sign the bill Friday during a ceremony sure to draw supporters from the environmental community and industry.

The law doesn’t address regulations for offshore wind projects. A statewide task force recommended that the state aggressively support the idea, but concluded that offshore wind remains too expensive and faces too much regulatory uncertainty to be an immediate contributor. The technology is a decade away from being cost -effective, the task force concluded.

King said the rapidly rising cost of oil and gasoline is changing that view.

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

Portland Press Herald

16 April 2008