Stalled efforts to test a floating wind farm off the Maine coast got back on track Wednesday after Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation directing the Public Utilities Commission to approve the contract for Maine Aqua Ventus, a first-of-its-kind wind project in the United States.
“With the innovative work being done at the University of Maine, our state has the potential to lead the world in floating offshore wind development,” Mills said. “This long-overdue bill will move us in that direction.”
Mills also announced two collaborative efforts to put the state back in the game for offshore wind energy research.
First, Maine has accepted an invitation from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to participate with New Hampshire and Massachusetts in a federally led Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Regional Task Force on offshore wind. The goal is to identify potential opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development on the outer continental shelf.
Mills also announced that she will create the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative. The state-based program will identify opportunities for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine and determine how Maine can best position itself to benefit from future offshore wind projects, including opportunities for job creation, supply chain and port development, and offshore wind’s impact on Maine’s energy future.
The initiative also will promote compatibility between potential future uses and existing uses, such as Maine’s commercial fishing and maritime industries.
Mills’ announcement comes as European and American energy developers are poised to invest billions of dollars in near-shore wind farms along the Eastern Seaboard, from Massachusetts to North Carolina. The projects are for towers sunk into the seabed, not floating platforms as is proposed in Maine. Clean energy and business interests have said that Maine could miss out in potential economic opportunities from this energy sector in the future if it doesn’t step up its efforts.
The Maine Aqua Ventus project had been stalled at the PUC for more than a year, after the panel decided to reopen its power purchase contract.
Mills’ predecessor, Gov. Paul LePage, opposed wind development and took actions that prompted the Norwegian energy company formerly called Statoil to withdraw plans for a pilot floating wind farm off the Maine coast in 2013. Before that, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had received a request for an offshore lease in Maine.
In a letter this week, the bureau expressed interest in resuming its working relationship with Maine, via the intergovernmental task force.
“Participating in the federal task force will also give Maine a seat at the table to ensure that development moves forward with the least impact to commercial fishing and other ocean-dependent industries,” Mills said.
The Maine Aqua Ventus program is supported by $39.9 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. The pilot project seeks to deploy two UMaine-designed floating turbines off Monhegan Island.
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