SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – State and federal officials are discussing Thursday a proposal by a Norwegian energy company to build a wind farm about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Maine.
Statoil North America Inc., a division of the Norwegian company Statoil ASA, submitted an application in October for a commercial lease to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for an area of ocean that’s about 22 square miles, for full assessment of environmental impacts, sea bed conditions and wind speeds. The lease area is offshore of the Boothbay region.
The eventual size of the “Hywind Maine” project would be narrowed down to an area of between 2.32 and 3.86 square miles.
The official interest by a major industry player in offshore wind immediately accelerates the potential development of the sector in Maine. The state, largely through the efforts of private industry and the University of Maine, has been developing prototypes, studying the areas off the coast for environmental and commercial issues and setting up the process for approving such projects.
The federal agency has reviewed the legal aspects of the application, and has approved that portion. It still has to review the technical and financial merits of the program.
The project would be in water 460-to-520-feet deep. Because of the depth, the wind turbines would be floating, tethered to anchors on the sea floor – not embedded in the ocean bed.
Aditi Mirani, the bureau’s project manager for Maine, said the initial project that Statoil has proposed is a pilot plan.
“What they’re proposing here is a test facility, a small-scale project, they just want to demonstrate the commercial potential of that floating turbine technology,” said Marini.
It would include four 3-megawatt turbines, she said.
Marini said Statoil plans to submit construction plans and operations plans by the end of next year, with the bureau making a decision on the lease request and approval of those plans by 2014. The plan is to start installation of the turbines in summer 2016, she said.
Statoil has responded to a request for proposals from the Maine Public Utilities Commission for companies that wanted to produce offshore energy, and the company has also applied to the New England electric grid to connect at the Boothbay substation.
Statoil developed the first deep-water floating turbine off the coast of Norway in 2009. Former Gov. John Baldacci, University of Maine researchers and others visited the site that year, signing an agreement to cooperate in exploring the technology’s potential.
The company has operations in 34 countries and is valued at $85 billion. Company officials visited Maine after the gubernatorial mission to Norway and said at the time that they were exploring numerous deep-water sites around the globe for their first commercial wind farm.
About 100 state and federal officials, as well as members of the public and interested parties, gathered Thursday for the meeting in South Portland.
Expected to last for much of the day, the session includes numerous comments from agencies ranging from the Coast Guard to the Department of Defense to the National Marine Fisheries Service on how they plan to study the proposal, and what issues may exist.
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