A polarizing proposal to install floating wind turbines off Monhegan Island did not receive an important $47 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Maine Aqua Ventus I project will receive a relatively modest $3 million to continue design and engineering work. The project will also serve as an alternate to the winners.
Aqua Ventus was one of six projects in competition for three $47 million grants. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the grants to projects in New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia.
The department’s decision could place the future of the project in question. A project representative recently told the Bristol Wind Power Advisory Committee the project “might be all done” without the grant.
If the grant is “no go, then we don’t go,” University of Maine Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development Jake Ward said March 4. “It might be all done, at least as a project as it’s described right here.”
A project spokesman was not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.
Ward has told the Bangor Daily News the project will continue to pursue financing and permitting, although it is hard to say if it has “a clear path forward” after the announcement.
Maine Aqua Ventus I GP LLC is the company behind the project. The company’s general partners are Cianbro Corp., Emera Inc., and Maine Prime Technologies LLC, which represents the University of Maine.
The Aqua Ventus proposal has encountered resistance from some area residents who have concerns about the project’s impact on commercial fishing and tourism, among other things.
The Monhegan Energy Task Force issued a statement about the decision.
The task force “was neighter for nor against” Aqua Ventus, Co-chairwoman Marian Chioffi said in the statement. The purpose of the task force was to “keep island voices at the forefront” of the conversation about the project, she said.
The group hopes “communications will continue” and any future development at the site will take Monhegan’s best interests into account, Chioffi said.
Co-chairwoman Tara Hire also addressed the decision.
“Monhegan is a unique place and our economy is delicately balanced between fishing and tourism, both of which depend on the conservation of the environment on and around Monhegan,” Hire said.
The project would provide a significant benefit to the island in the form of electricity costs. The project’s contract with the Maine Public Utilities Commission requires it to provide free electricity to the Monhegan Plantation Power District and install a fiber-optic cable to the island for high-speed Internet.
“Monhegan has one of the highest electric rates in the country” at $0.70 per kilowatt hour, according to the task force’s statement. Aqua Ventus “presented the opportunity to tie into the wind turbines, reducing energy costs for islanders.”
The Bristol Wind Power Advisory Committee had been scheduled to meet with project representatives next week. Chairwoman Andrea Cox, however, said a university representative contacted her to postpone the meeting.
“They feel like they don’t have a clear idea, at this juncture, how they will be moving forward,” Cox said. The representatives want to meet with the U.S. Department of Energy to discuss the project before it returns to the committee.
The committee will continue its work to gather information and represent Bristol’s interests if the project does proceed.
“I think we all recognize that, even though Maine Aqua Ventus didn’t get the money they wanted, the project may move forward at some point,” Cox said.
The committe’s work “has not ended, we just have a little bit more breathing room,” she said. “Personally, I’m relieved that we have a little more time to get things sorted out.”
The committee will still hold its meeting, albeit without the project representatives. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 13 at the Bristol town office.
Friends of Muscongus Bay, a Bristol-based group that opposes the project, welcomed the Department of Energy’s announcement.
“I think it gives us more time to continue to raise the concerns and issues we have with the test site itself,” said Andrew Fenniman, a founder and spokesman for the group.
Fenniman hopes to work with local legislators to take the Monhegan site “off the table” for the Aqua Ventus project or any future project.
Friends of Muscongus Bay is not “pro-wind or anti-wind,” Fenniman said. “The issue we really have is, we just think there are so many problems with this site – economically, environmentally, aesthetically, historically – it’s just a bad site.”
The group would like to see the state reopen the search for test sites.
“We’re going to continue to meet and make sure we’re not losing momentum and we’re continuing to move forward,” Fenniman said.