The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday to reevaluate the terms of a power purchase agreement between the proposed Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV) offshore wind project and Central Maine Power. The move has prompted fears that the three commissioners could end up killing the offshore wind test pilot along with a $40 million Department of Energy grant for the project.
“Today the LePage-appointed PUC Commission said ‘no’ to thousands of jobs and millions of investment in Maine’s clean energy future,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in a statement. “We don’t yet know whether this decision will kill the Maine Aqua Ventus project. We do know it sends a tragic message to businesses and investors everywhere that doing business with Maine is risky. That’s something Maine’s environment and economy can ill afford.”
Four years ago the PUC voted to approve the terms of a power purchase agreement with MAV, but since then Gov. Paul LePage has replaced two commissioners with more conservative appointees. In January, the panel voted to delay a vote on final approval of the power purchase agreement. In a press release, the commissioners said they made the decision in order to ensure that the proposal still meets all of the legal requirements and is in the public interest.
“The Commission understands the importance of this project to MAV and its stakeholders,” said Chairman Mark Vannoy, who voted against approving the terms in 2014. “On the other hand, it is incumbent on the Commission to ensure that the proposal continues to meet the legal requirements established by the Maine Legislature in 2010 and remains in the public interest of Maine citizens and businesses.”
Since 2009, Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV) – a consortium of private and public entities led by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center – has been developing the floating wind pilot project. The group proposes to build two 6-megawatt demonstration wind turbines on floating submersible concrete platforms 2.5 miles south of Monhegan Island. Under the current terms of the agreement, the project would sell power for 23 cents per kWh, which would increase by 2.25 percent annually. But the commissioners argue that there have been “significant changes” in energy markets and technology, as well as some in the MAV proposal itself, since the term sheet was approved four years ago. The commissioners said that energy market price projections are “as much as 80% lower” than they were when the commission approved the terms.
The test site is meant to provide data to help establish a larger wind farm 20 miles offshore within the next two decades, and potentially in other offshore locations around the world, according to MAV. Offshore wind development has been hampered by the lack of effective and affordable floating platforms and the cost and limitations of fixed offshore structures that can withstand ocean storms. Once the university is able to mass-produce the turbines, it estimates the rates will be closer to the much more competitive 7.7-kWh rate.
Maine’s application process for the lucrative DOE grants has been mired in controversy ever since Gov. LePage pulled the plug on Norwegian energy giant Statoil’s plan to build a $120 million offshore wind pilot project near Boothbay Harbor. In 2013, LePage and Republican legislators led by Sen. Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo County) insisted that the Public Utilities Commission reopen the application process to allow the University of Maine to apply. In response, Statoil abandoned its plans to develop offshore wind projects in Maine, citing the uncertain regulatory environment, and decided to move ahead to establish an offshore wind project in Scotland, which it has done.
“The legacy of that decision still haunts Maine, as we see other countries and states to our south move forward with offshore wind, reaping the resulting economic boost,” said Voorhees. “Instead of beginning to repair the damage from that fateful move, today’s decision is déjà vu.”
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