With the news that the University of Maine-led offshore wind project has received additional funding, the Monhegan Energy Task Force is seeking input regarding potential community benefits of the project, including an offer of compensation from the university in lieu of receiving electricity through an undersea cable.
The Monhegan Energy Task Force will hold a community meeting Tuesday, April 5 at the Monhegan School House to discuss these potential benefits.
The Monhegan Energy Task Force will work with the University of Maine to draft a community-benefits agreement to compensate for the potential impacts of the Maine Aqua Ventus I project.
The Maine Aqua Ventus I project would consist of two floating wind turbines 2 1/2 miles southeast of Monhegan Island and 10 to 12 miles offshore of Bristol. An undersea cable would deliver electricity to the mainland and the island.
The project was proposed in 2013, but progress slowed the following year when Maine Aqua Ventus did not receive a $47 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The project did receive a $3 million grant to continue design and engineering work.
The U.S. Department of Energy also named Maine Aqua Ventus an alternate in the event that one of the projects that received a $47 million grant failed to move forward.
In November 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy gave Maine Aqua Ventus an additional $3.7 million to continue pre-construction and design work of the pilot wind farm.
In May, the U.S. Department of Energy will evaluate Maine Aqua Ventus I, as well as the three projects that were chosen to receive a $47 million grant, said University of Maine Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development Jake Ward.
“We’re still an alternate, and will continue to be an alternate until the Department of Energy decides not to continue with any of the three primary projects,” Ward said. “If one of those falls out, we could receive additional funding.”
The project met resistance in Bristol and Monhegan for a variety of reasons, including concerns about the negative impact the undersea cable could have on shrimp draggers, the safety of birds, and the impact the turbines would have on ocean views.
The Monhegan Energy Task Force recently distributed a survey to residents of the island asking residents what benefits the task force should negotiate with the project on behalf of the community. The results of the survey will be discussed at the April 5 meeting.
“When the task force was originally formed, we were charged with giving the people of Monhegan a voice and staying abreast of what’s going on with Maine Aqua Ventus,” said Monhegan Energy Task Force Co-chair Marian Chioffi. “If the project does move forward, it does have impacts on Monhegan, and we want to get a clearer picture of what people are thinking and how we as the task force should proceed.”
One of the options is a cable to Monhegan to supply electricity at no generation cost, as well as a fiber-optic cable for high-speed internet. Customers of Monhegan Plantation Power District would still pay a monthly bill to cover the maintenance of the plant, the distribution of power, and ongoing debt service.
Additional benefits of the option may include the university paying for the installation of the fiber-optic cable; establishing the right-of-way for the cable to the Monhegan Plantation Power District on Monhegan; and/or a payment of the cost of system upgrades necessary for the delivery of power to Monhegan Plantation Power District.
The other primary option proposed would be an annual payment as compensation instead of the undersea cable, an option that was originally discussed more than a year ago, Chioffi said.
“Our original proposal for the project included the option for a power cable from the site to shore,” Ward said. “Since the Monhegan Energy Task Force formed, they have been looking into what would be best for the island long term. We have encouraged them to explore what other options might be available, including payment instead of the power cable.”
According to the survey, the University of Maine has proposed $200,000 per year for the 20-year life of the project, a total of $4 million. At optimal production, Maine Aqua Ventus I is estimated to gross $9.9 million per year.
According to the survey, possible uses of the funds could include the research and development of alternative energy sources for Monhegan; mitigation for losses yet to be determined, such as tourism and property values; or other community needs.
Additional community benefits have been informally discussed with the University of Maine, including reimbursement to Monhegan for all costs incurred during the project and the commitment to give Monhegan residents preference in hiring during the construction, operation, and maintenance phases of the project, according to the survey.
Comments can be submitted to the Monhegan Energy Task Force at monheganenergy.info. The group hopes to receive all comments before April 1.
The Monhegan Energy Task Force hired Laura Singer, a Maine-based facilitator and outreach consultant, to share the results of the survey at a public meeting in the future. Singer lists the University of Maine as one of her clients on her LinkedIn account.
More information regarding the Monhegan Energy Task Force and the upcoming meeting can be found at monheganenergy.info or on the Monhegan Energy Task Force Facebook page.
The Bristol Wind Power Advisory Committee met Jan. 27 and agreed to ask town attorney Jennifer Villeneuve to draft a statement regarding the town’s stance on the project to distribute to interested parties. The committee will meet again Wednesday, March 30 at 6 p.m.