PORTLAND, Maine – The University of Maine consortium developing a floating offshore wind turbine design will receive another $3.7 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to develop a project to prove its concept can work, at a site near Monhegan Island.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King on Monday announced the additional money for the project, which is an alternate in the running for a second $40 million federal award.
“With this additional investment of $3.7 million, the Aqua Ventus project will be on a level playing field with the other demonstration projects and competitive for potentially advancing to the construction phase of the demonstration program,” Collins and King said in a joint statement.
The three offshore wind projects selected in 2014 as top competitors by the DOE received about $6.7 million to make their concepts construction-ready. Meanwhile, Maine and another alternate project got $3 million to continue development work.
The new batch of funding means all five projects will get $6.7 million to develop construction-ready projects by May 1, 2016.
“The good news is we’re still in the game,” said Jake Ward, the university’s assistant vice president for innovation and development.
There are still some answered questions about what comes next, Ward said.
“This is the little bit of uncertainty, that we have no information from DOE and we don’t know what their true expectations are,” Ward said Monday morning after the announcement from the senators’ offices.
In letters to the senators, U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson wrote that the scope of work funded for the Maine project will depend partly on results of a third-party engineering study due at the end of January.
“The new award will likely focus on overcoming the remaining barriers to the project’s successful development, such as the completion of permitting; development of installation, operation and maintenance plans; and finalizing grid interconnection,” Danielson wrote.
In 2013, the university, which had received $4 million in federal funding for the project, deployed a one-eighth-scale model of VolturnUS, its prototype floating turbine, in waters off Castine. The turbine began generating power that month and became the first offshore wind turbine in the Americas to send electricity into the power grid.
A project proposed by Principle Power in Oregon also using a floating platform won full funding, as did Fishermen’s Energy off the coast of New Jersey and Dominion Virginia Power off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Each of those projects has faced delays, leaving a possible opening for the UMaine project and another alternate proposed by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., which also received additional development funds.
The three leading projects will have to hit certain milestones by an extended May 1, 2016, deadline, with decisions about which projects would advance to receive another $40 million grant to come May 31, 2016. Those larger grants require a dollar-for-dollar match from the selected companies and other commitments.
For Aqua Ventus, winning that grant would help fund construction of its planned demonstration project for two wind turbines near Monhegan. The hope, then, would be to attract private investment in a full-scale offshore wind farm.
Habib Dagher, director of UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center and head of the offshore wind research team, said the money will help the consortium developing the floating wind turbines finish planning, negotiate supply contracts and close out its financing.
“We continue to make significant progress by demonstrating the technical and cost reduction advantages of the VolturnUS floating concrete offshore wind technology,” Dagher said in a prepared statement. “Our team is busy putting the final touches on the design of the 6-megawatt hulls for the 12-megawatt demonstration project.”
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