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UMaine secures $5 million grant for wind turbine development

The University of Maine was awarded roughly $5 million this week to continue development of a floating platform to support up to a 12-megawatt wind turbine.

The grant, announced Wednesday, was awarded to the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, which already has developed two similar platforms capable of holding smaller, 6-megawatt turbines planned for deployment off the coast of Monhegan Island as a demonstration project, Maine Aqua Ventus.

The University of Maine was among the 13 projects that received a total of $23 million.

The $5 million grant will allow designers to refocus efforts on a single-platform design, instead of creating two smaller turbines linked together. The precise funding amount and structure of the grant is expected to be finalized in the coming months.

The platform hulls are concrete structures that float semi-submerged in the ocean. They are tethered to the seafloor and connected to an underwater cable tied to the power grid.

The composite center’s director, Habib Dagher, said in a statement that he was appreciative of the grant and the continued focus on developing the advanced offshore wind technology.

“We are hopeful we can reduce the Monhegan project from two floating platforms to a single slightly larger platform, reducing the hardware in the water, total amount of blade swept area, and impacts to the environment and fisheries,” Dagher said.

Maine’s award was half of the roughly $10 million devoted to offshore wind-related projects in the grants. The other roughly $5 million allocation went to an Ohio-based corporation researching bird activity near an offshore wind site in Lake Erie.

The funding selections were announced by the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Daniel R Simmons, at the two-day American Wind Energy Association Offshore Windpower Conference that wrapped up Wednesday in Boston.

“These projects will be instrumental in driving down technology costs and increasing consumer options for wind across the United States as part of our comprehensive energy portfolio,” Simmons said in a news release.

The funding is a step forward for the Maine Aqua Ventus project, which had been stalled with regulators since June 2018 when the Public Utilities Commission voted to re-open the Maine Aqua Ventus contract.

Former Gov. Paul LePage was skeptical of wind power’s potential and in 2013 scuttled another offshore wind project backed by the Norwegian company known at the time as Statoil.

But Gov. Janet Mills re-committed to the Maine Aqua Ventus project this summer by signing legislation directing state regulators to approve the stalled contract, and separately, Mills’ administration has taken steps to re-emphasize offshore wind power development in the state.