By Darren Fishell, Bangor Daily News
The U.S. Department of Energy has cleared the University of Maine’s offshore wind project and two other over-water wind farms to receive up to $40 million more to build full-scale demonstration projects.
The UMaine project leapfrogged over others that were initially selected as finalists for a grant funding round that, with the announcement Friday, May 27, has entirely changed.
No longer are the projects competing with one another for funding, but they must meet certain benchmarks to receive continued disbursements over three additional review periods, according to a Department of Energy spokesperson.
In each review period, the three projects will be able to receive another $13.3 million, with additional review between each funding phase to determine whether the department will continue or stop funding projects.
The Department of Energy picked UMaine alongside Atlantic City Windfarm in New Jersey and Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., each using different foundations.
The New Jersey project will use a “twisted jacket foundation,” with three legs twisted around a central column.
The Lake Erie project will use another type of foundation called a “mono bucket,” which is a cylindrical base on the turbine that is open at the bottom. The open bottom sinks into the lake bed, then the water is pumped out from inside, allowing water pressure alone to hold the turbine in place.
Dawn Selak, a Department of Energy spokeswoman, complimented UMaine’s project in a written statement Friday, citing potential for the university-designed floating turbine platform to help access more than 60 percent of key offshore wind resources, which are in water too deep for conventional foundations.
“The university and its partners have made significant progress on the engineering design of this floating platform, focusing on commercial-scale manufacturing and reducing costs,” Selak said.
Habib Dagher, director of UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, said in a telephone interview that the project has broader economic potential, making Maine a hub for expertise in offshore wind and related manufacturing. The design uses a concrete hull and tower made from composites.
“We’re going to be embarking on a journey to become a leader in a technology that will change energy,” Dagher said.
The university developed the project and its design alongside Cianbro Corp., Emera, and the French industrial builder DCNS, all partners in the project called Maine Aqua Ventus.
The Department of Energy decision bumps out a competing floating turbine concept from Principle Power in Oregon and another twisted jacket foundation project by Dominion Virginia Power off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Some of the other projects have had a difficult time meeting benchmarks required by the Department of Energy, which prompted them to delay deadlines earlier this year and set a separate requirement in the latest announcement for Atlantic City Windfarm to secure a power agreement before the end of the year.
The UMaine project secured a power purchase term sheet in 2014, with approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and in 2013 deployed a one-eighth-scale model of its turbine in waters off Castine, which became the first offshore wind turbine in the Americas to send electricity into the power grid.
UMaine secured that term sheet after the Legislature passed a massive energy bill that included a provision Gov. Paul LePage advanced to reopen a solicitation for offshore wind proposals that had already resulted in a term sheet with the Norwegian company Statoil. Statoil decided soon after to scuttle its project, which also would have competed for DOE funding for offshore wind projects.
For Aqua Ventus, winning additional grant money will help fund construction of its planned demonstration project for two wind turbines near Monhegan Island and Bristol. The hope, then, would be to attract private investment in a full-scale offshore wind farm.
Residents of Bristol and Monhegan have been monitoring the project’s progress.
Andrew Fenniman, a co-founder of Friends of Muscongus Bay, said that organization still questions whether the proposed location is the best site for the project.
“A lot of people are concerned about the site and the potential impact the project could have economically on lobstermen and tourism and environmentally,” Fenniman said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and by the time we find out, the damage might already be done.”
Fenniman said Friends of Muscongus Bay plans to meet in the near future and consult an attorney about the group’s options.
“It’s about giving people a voice,” Fenniman said.
Andrea Cox, who chairs the Bristol Wind Power Advisory Committee, said the committee has not met to discuss the new development.
“Our next step is to meet as a committee, discuss what is happening, and (discuss) what we should do next,” Cox said.
During previous meetings, the Bristol Wind Power Advisory Committee expressed interest in meeting with representatives of UMaine to learn more about the project, something Cox said the committee is still interested in doing.
The UMaine project received $3 million in May 2014 and was designated as an alternate, while other leading projects had gotten a total of about $6.7 million to make their concepts construction-ready.
The UMaine project in November received additional funding to bring it on par with competing projects, but remained an alternate in the program until the announcement Friday, which Maine’s congressional delegation hailed as a win for the state.
“Today’s decision by the Department of Energy puts Maine firmly on the map of America’s emerging offshore wind industry,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said in a joint statement.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said the decision was “game-changing news” for the project and its future prospects at funding.
(BDN staff writer Nick McCrea and LCN reporter Maia Zewert contributed to this report.)