A throng of journalists and a few fishermen showed up at the Friendship town hall on Tuesday, November 12, for the first of three meetings being held by the University of Maine to update the public on the status of the Monhegan offshore wind project, a test site located about two miles south of the island. It is the first step towards creating the proposed Maine Aqua Ventus offshore wind farm that, if it eventually comes to fruition, will float about 85 turbines in an estimated 8-by-8-mile wind farm about 20 miles offshore.
Maine’s attempts to move forward in establishing offshore wind farms as an economically viable source of future power ran afoul of political influence earlier this summer when a $120 million agreement with the Norwegian firm Statoil to build a pilot offshore wind project was rescinded by the state, and the bidding process was reopened in order to allow the University of Maine and its public and private partners to come up with a competing bid.
In response, Statoil, a leader in offshore wind development, who deployed the first offshore floating wind turbine in the world in 2009, pulled out of Maine and is now moving ahead to establish Hywind Scotland, where it is planning to install five 5-megawatt floating turbines at a test site off the northeast coast, according to Windpower Offshore, an industry trade publication.
The University of Maine and its partners did go ahead and submit a proposal to the Public Utilities Commission, but have been reluctant to reveal the details of their project, saying it would harm their attempts to compete for Department of Energy funding. The project cost, the economic costs and benefits to Maine communities and the impact on Maine ratepayers have not yet been released. That information should be released within days.
Meanwhile, Jake Ward, the University of Maine Vice President of Innovation, was on hand in Friendship to give an update on the Mohegan test phase of Aqua Ventus.
Ward said the Maine Aqua Ventus I pilot project off Monhegan will have two 6-megawatt turbines on 270-foot-tall composite-material towers mounted on floating submersible concrete hulls that are tethered to the bottom by chains about 1,000 feet long, likely anchored to the mud.
The floating turbines will be constructed on land and towed to become a permanent feature at the site. A cable connected to Monhegan will provide free power to residents and connect the island to the grid. The island currently generates electricity with a diesel generator.
Another cable, about six inches in diameter, will run from the test site to shore near Bristol. The exact location of the cables remains to be determined, said Ward, and the project is attempting to avoid placing cables in known fishing areas.
There will be no prohibitions for setting lobster gear near the turbines, said Ward, though fishermen will set gear at their own risk. In the area where the cable is located, any gear that moves across the bottom would need to be lifted above the cable area as it passed, said Ward.
The cable connections, free power, size of the turbines and the proposal that the wind turbines become permanently placed at the site, rather than temporary installments, are all changes that have resulted in a refinement of the project as it develops, according to university spokespeople.
Whether the turbines will ever be installed at Monhegan at all depends on whether the project meets the deadlines for a Department of Energy (DOE) grant that will provide a large share of the funding for Maine Aqua Ventus I. They have a 50-percent chance of being accepted in the next round of DOE funding targeted for offshore wind development.
If Maine Aqua Ventus is not accepted for future funding in May 2014, Ward said they would be looking for private funding or to partner with other projects in order to move forward.