The new developers behind a long-planned offshore wind energy demonstration project south of Monhegan Island now hope to have the floating turbine in place by summer 2023.
Representatives of the developers presented a tentative timeline for the project in a Zoom meeting with Monhegan residents and the Monhegan Energy Task Force on Aug. 18.
New England Aqua Ventus LLC, a joint venture between Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corp., and RWE Renewables, the second-largest company in offshore wind globally, has replaced the previous company behind the project, Maine Aqua Ventus 1 GP LLC, according to Jake Ward, vice president for innovation and economic development at the University of Maine.
Ward said the new partnership will operate under the same power-purchase contract with Central Maine Power Co. that was approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission late last year.
The two global renewable energy companies announced the partnership with the University of Maine, as well as $100 million in funding for the project, dubbed New England Aqua Ventus I, earlier this month.
New England Aqua Ventus LLC will lead construction, deployment, and operations for the single 10- to 12-megawatt wind turbine, the university said in an Aug. 5 press release announcing the partnership.
The university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center will handle design, engineering, and research and development for the project, and will monitor it once it is operating.
The partnership also includes the Pittsfield-based construction contractor Cianbro.
Chris Wissemann, CEO of Diamond Offshore Wind, spoke for the joint venture and said he hopes to identify a landing site where the underwater cable from the wind turbine can tie into the power grid by the end of 2020.
The route of the cable and where it will make land, both points of contention in mainland communities since the initiation of the project several years ago, are not yet clear.
“We have ideas, we have communities we want to start working with, and that will just emerge here over the next few weeks and months. And again, it’s just one of those things that’s difficult when we can’t show up and meet with people,” Wissemann said in reference to COVID-19 public health protocols.
During the Aug. 18 meeting, Wissemann said the new partnership was only 10 days old, so it had only just started its work. He said New England Aqua Ventus LLC recently opened an office on Commercial Street in Portland.
Wissemann said a central concern is researching the impact that the turbine will have on the ecosystem of the area, particularly on fishermen.
“We think it would be prudent to build only on research that demonstrates how people can operate around these things — how right whales can operate around these things, how fisherman can fish,” Wissemann said.
Wissemann was joined in the Zoom call by two colleagues at Diamond Offshore Wind, David Deutsch and Duncan McEachern, as well as a consultant recently hired by the company, Genevieve McDonald.
The group planned to visit Monhegan Island for an overnight stay on Wednesday, Aug. 19 to “get used to the island,” Wissemann said.
Ward and Meghan Collins, communications manager at the university’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center, also joined the call.
Wissemann said New England Aqua Ventus LLC is finalizing a wind turbine appropriate to the project, doing a lot of engineering work, and working with Cianbro on determining how to build the foundation for the project locally.
In March, the project announced that it will consist of one 10-megawatt turbine instead of the two 6-megawatt turbines in earlier versions of the project.
Wissemann said his company is still looking to find an appropriate wind turbine that will work for the project.
Wissemann said there is mounting research on offshore wind farms in Europe that shows that birds adapt well to the presence of the floating turbines.
“Pretty much offshore wind has been found to be a good coexistence with birds in particular,” Wissemann said.
According to the New England Aqua Ventus LLC website, the project will consist of a floating concrete hull called the VolturnUS, which was designed by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
The turbine will be mounted on the hull, which will be held in place by three mooring lines anchored to the seabed.
New England Aqua Ventus LLC hopes to begin submitting permit applications early next year and start building the foundation in 2022, said Wissemann.
The turbine will arrive and be erected in Searsport in spring 2023 and the entire pre-built structure will be towed out to sea that summer, to the project site approximately 2 miles south of Monhegan Island and 14 miles off the Maine coast.
“The purpose of the demonstration project is to further evaluate the floating technology, monitor environmental factors, and develop best practices for offshore wind to coexist with traditional marine activities. It will supply clean, renewable electricity to the Maine grid,” the Aug. 5 press release from the University of Maine said.
The press release says the project is projected to produce more than $150 million in economic output and provide hundreds of Maine-based jobs during the construction period.