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Maine offshore wind proposals win key federal grants

Two proposed offshore wind projects in Maine today received important federal grants that officials say will help put the state at the forefront of developing a commercial, deepwater wind power industry.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced two offshore wind awards of $4 million each, for projects off Monhegan Island and in the Gulf of Maine off Boothbay Harbor.

A team led by the University of Maine at Orono plans to install a pilot floating offshore wind farm with two, 6-megawatt direct-drive turbines on concrete, semi-submersible foundations. The turbines will rise 300 feet above the ocean – taller than the Washington Monument – and have blades 500-feet in diameter.

Additionally, a project led by Stamford, Connecticut-based Statoil North America plans to deploy four 3-megawatt wind turbines on floating spar buoy structures off Boothbay Harbor, at a water depth of approximately 460 feet.

These spar buoys and the University of Maine project will be assembled in a harbor to help reduce installation costs, and then towed to the site to access extensive deep-water offshore wind resources.

Floating wind turbines can be placed further offshore, so they aren’t visible from land. These projects will also help clear hurdles to installing utility-scale turbines in U.S. waters, connecting to the power grid and navigating new siting and permitting processes, the department said.

The Maine projects are two of seven awards that will help speed the deployment of stronger, more efficient offshore wind power technologies and showcase innovative technologies – helping to further lower costs and drive greater performance.

In the initial phase, each project will receive up to $4 million to complete the engineering, design and permitting phase of this award. The department will select up to three of these projects for follow-on phases that focus on siting, construction and installation and aim to achieve commercial operation by 2017.

These final projects will receive up to $47 million each over four years, subject to Congressional appropriations.

“It’s probably the largest research grant to the state of Maine,” said Habib Dagher, the University of Maine professor who has spearheaded the school’s Offshore Wind Laboratory.

Dagher said the university already has lined up roughly $42 million in private money to supplement the larger, federal grant. The university also is planning to deploy a scale model of the technology next year off Monhegan Island.

Offshore wind represents a large, untapped energy resource for the United States that could generate four times the nation’s current total generation capacity. According to a new report commissioned by the Energy Department, a U.S. offshore wind industry that takes advantage of this abundant domestic resource could support up to 200,000 manufacturing, construction, operation and supply chain jobs across the country and drive over $70 billion in annual investments by 2030. Offshore wind represents an economic and energy opportunity that could mirror the success of land-based wind development.

“The United States has tremendous untapped clean energy resources, and it is important for us to develop technologies that will allow us to utilize those resources in ways that are economically viable,” Chu said. “Today’s announcement of awards to the first offshore wind projects in the U.S. paves the way to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diverse domestic energy portfolio that develops every source of American energy.”

The federal grants were praised by members of Maine’s Congressional delegation, which has been especially active in advancing the university proposal.

“I am thrilled that the innovative deepwater offshore wind initiative, New England Aqua Ventus I, led by the University of Maine, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy for this competitive federal grant,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “This extremely important announcement is a vital step that could eventually help harness the vast potential of deepwater offshore wind energy and lead to the potential creation of some 20,000 new jobs.”

Seventy organizations applied for grants from the Advanced Technology Demonstration Program grant program.

“This is a major grant and puts Maine at the center of the development of the offshore wind industry,”Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine said. “The University of Maine has used advanced materials to create a technology that allows the turbines to be bigger and last longer in the harsh marine environment, and that is going to translate into lower energy costs.”

“I vehemently supported UMaine’s Aqua Ventus project and I am profoundly pleased that the proposal was approved, so our incredibly talented students and professors can begin work on this historic endeavor,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.