FRIENDSHIP – Loss of fishing grounds, noise and the industry’s reliance on government subsidies were among the objections raised about a planned wind power project off Monhegan Island.
The concerns were aired at the first of three community outreach meetings Nov. 12 on the University of Maine’s wind power project, which would site two floating turbines producing up to 12 megawatts of electricity. If the turbines perform as hoped, the project could be expanded to produce up to 500 megawatts of electricity.
The project has morphed significantly in just the last two years, Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president of innovation said.
UMaine’s composite research center won federal Department of Energy funding—one of seven selected nationwide—that launched the offshore wind work, Ward said.
UMaine had been working on developing composite structures using a blend of synthetic and natural materials. When successful, the composite components are both lightweight but strong; applications include boat building.
Ward said the program ventured into wind power at the urging of the late Matt Simmons, a former Texas oil entrepreneur who had a home in Rockport and who founded the Ocean Energy Institute in Rockland with other investors.
“They actually came up to the university,” Ward said, where researchers were focused on such energy producers as biomass, not wind. “We sort of got pulled into it.”
Though the Norwegian firm Statoil had won support earlier this year from the Maine Public Utilities Commission to build a demonstration wind power project off Boothbay, the company withdrew from Maine after state government reopened the bid process for the state funding.
Despite the PUC selecting Statoil for its support, UMaine continued its ongoing research. In 2011, the university built a 1/50th scale model of a floating turbine, and in late spring, it built and towed a one-eighth scale test version just off Dyce Head Lighthouse in Castine.
A one-third scale prototype was going to be built, but Ward said now the plan is proceed to full-size.
Three versions were considered for the floating towers: a long, thin “spar” hanging below the water to keep the unit steady; a “tension leg platform” that would have ties to the bottom; and the option selected, which will use three semi-submersible “pods.” That version uses concrete for the portion that stays below the water’s surface and composite material above.
The tower also is made of composite material.
The floating tower and turbine can be towed to the site off Monhegan, and towed to shore for maintenance as needed, Ward said.
By February, half of the design work must be complete in order to qualify for the next round of Department of Energy funding, he said. Another round of funding is possible if all the design is done by February 2015.
If the funding isn’t won, it’s not clear what UMaine will do, though Ward added, “We’re not giving up on the technology.” If the money comes through, construction would begin in spring 2015.
And for the full project to be built, investors will have to step in and support it, Ward said.
A consortium led by the university under the name Maine Prime Technologies includes the for-profit businesss Cianbro Corp. and Emera Inc., an energy company based in Nova Scotia.
The full build-out isn’t expected to take shape until the 2020s, he said.
Because the composite material holds up to the harsh marine environment, the tower is expected to have a 100-year life. The blades, which will have a turning diameter of nearly 500 feet, are expected to last just 20 years.
UMaine chose the area southeast of Monhegan Island off Boothbay Harbor for its project from a list of four preferred sites identified by the Department of Environmental Protection four years ago.
Ward said monitoring of fish, birds, bats and bottom-dwelling invertebrates was done with no red flags appearing. The site is a little over one mile wide by a little over two miles long.
A key benefit for Monhegan residents, who will have to see the turbines floating just two miles away, is that UMaine promises to provide free electricity plus connection from the mainland of a fiber optic cable, bringing a high-speed Internet connection. Islanders would still have to pay transmission costs, though.
The bulk of the 6 megawatts would be sent to the electric grid via a cable to the mainland, connecting to a CMP substation in Bristol, Ward said. Lobster traps can be dropped on the cable, he said, though nets and dragging gear must be lifted over the cable.
The cable is similar to that connecting Vinalhaven to the mainland, he said.
Each tower will be moored to the bottom by a 3-4 cables about 1,000-feet long, but like a buoy, will swing with the tides and wind. The cables will be held to a smaller anchor, which in turn will be joined to a larger weight.
“Each tower will have a circle that it moves within,” Ward said. The test turbines will move in a circle of about 270 feet in diameter. But after the meeting, he said about 80 percent of that area can still be fished, since the “wedge” shaped areas between the cables will be unencumbered.
“You can fish your traps around them,” Ward said.
Lights will be fixed to the tower, but not the blades.
Two fishermen present at the meeting spoke of their concerns about losing traps on the cables or bottom chain.
“It’s actually going to take that area,” said Rex Benner, “and you ain’t going to be able to fish it.” Losing a trap on a chain or cable means a $400 cost, he said.
“You would devastate this town,” he continued. About 40 boats now fish around Monhegan, Benner said, a recent change that came with warmer ocean temperatures changing lobster habits.
NOISE AND MONEY
New technology used in the turbine means there is no gear box, “So there’s less mechanical noise,” Ward said.
But Ward countered, saying “It’s not any different that what we’ve done with oil and gas, and nuclear. All of that was done with federal subsidies.”
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