Boothbay selectmen are interested in participating in a pilot project to see if an offshore wind farm is a viable, renewable energy source. The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center is in the midst of planning to construct a small, experimental wind farm off Monhegan Island. The center is seeking a location for cables to connect two offshore turbines to the mainland.
The center won a $3.7 million grant in 2016 for developing an offshore wind farm. The center is leading a consortium of 20 other partners hoping to use research derived from the pilot project and developing a 500 megawatt offshore wind farm in the next 10 to 15 years.
The center has identified Boothbay and Saint George as potential locations for receiving the six megawatts of electricity generated from wind power. UMaine professor Habib Dagher explained the proposed experimental wind power initiative during the Jan. 24 Boothbay selectmen’s meeting.
Following Dagher’s 95-minute presentation, selectmen authorized the center to perform a cable route survey during the last week of March. The survey will take about eight days. It will map the seabed’s geology to find a suitable location for burying electrical cables underwater, according to Dagher.
March was selected to avoid interfering with the local fishing industry. Selectmen also provided another bit of assistance to the project. They agreed to contact Maine’s Public Utilities Commission regarding a recent decision which may slow down the project. Previously, the PUC approved allowing the consortium, Maine Aqua Ventus, to charge higher than market prices for electricity generated. Maine Aqua Ventus needs the special rate to pay for loans financing the project’s infrastructure.
But the commission recently reversed its decision. Maine Aqua Ventus no longer has approval for charging above market electrical rates.
The PUC could, again, reverse its decision after the three-week comment period ends regarding its vote. Boothbay selectmen will send a letter in support of the higher electrical rate charge. Dagher will provide language to Town Manager Dan Bryer for drafting the letter.
Maine Aqua Ventus has already avoided one potential hurdle. Gov. Paul LePage’s decision won’t be an obstacle. LePage placed a moratorium on wind turbine projects in western and coastal Maine and along the islands. Dagher wasn’t sure if the moratorium would impact his project. “We have our fingers crossed,” he said.
On Jan. 25, State Rep. Stephanie Hawke, R-Boothbay Harbor, indicated to the Boothbay Register that Gov. LePage’s moratorium didn’t include Monhegan Island.
In other action, Joint Economic Development Committee Co-Chairman Wendy Wolf updated the board about its wayfinding project. The JEDC hired Gamble Design of Portstmouth, New Hampshire for advice regarding wayfinding signs for the region. The committee wants a variety of signs geared toward attracting more motorists to the peninsula. Large signs promoting the Boothbay region would appear on Route 27 and smaller ones informing tourists about various local attractions would be located in individual towns.
Wolf reported the project is still in phase one. She envisions more information about potential cost and a timeline for installing signs would happen in about six months.
Selectman Chuck Cunningham had concerns about who would pay for the large signs promoting the Boothbay region. The JEDC’s two founding members are Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor. Each town has contributed $25,000 for the past two years to the JEDC. Southport and Edgecomb are also JEDC members, but neither town has made a financial contribution.
“I think I speak for myself and the taxpayers by saying if we are funding signs which benefit the entire region, then the other towns need to step up, and each town should share equally in the cost,” Cunningham said.
Wolf, who is also a Boothbay Harbor selectman, agreed. She also reported the JEDC hadn’t discussed each town’s financial contribution to the project.
Another JEDC project was discussed. Wolf reminded Boothbay selectmen to RSVP for the Feb. 1 consultant’s report about regional economic development. Camoin & Associates will provide its report at the Boothbay Fire Station from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Cunningham expressed concern about holding a forum in a venue with limited space.
“Why should taxpayers have to RSVP for a presentation they paid for? I think we should find a bigger space,” he said.
Wolf said space was limited due to fire codes. She also said this was the first in a series of public meetings with Camoin & Associates. “We’re also looking for creating a dialogue and receiving feedback, and that is difficult in a large venue like the YMCA,” she said.
Selectmen will meet next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14 in the municipal conference room.
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