Maine readies for offshore wind power

Dec. 18, 2009 at 2:12 PM
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AUGUSTA, Maine, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Maine has selected three Atlantic Ocean sites for prototype wind turbines.

Gov. John Baldacci and researchers estimate that the state's offshore energy potential is equivalent to 100 nuclear plants.

The Tuesday announcement positions Maine to become the first U.S. state to create offshore wind test and demonstration sites.

"This is where the future lies. We want to become an energy generating center," Baldacci said during a news conference to announce the sites.

Baldacci's goal is to have 5 gigawatts installed by 2030, twice the state's current level of energy consumption. Maine is now heavily dependent on fossil fuel imports.

"It's about economic development. It's about environmental protection. It's about national security," Baldacci said.

Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center, heads up a team of researchers and is collaborating with more than 30 companies on the design, manufacture and testing of the floating wind turbine technology.

"Our vision is to put Maine in front of the country and the world in the development of offshore wind power," said Dagher.

The Gulf of Maine has been characterized as the "Saudi Arabia" of wind. Within 50 nautical miles of the state's coast there is potential to produce 149,000 megawatts of power using offshore wind, the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants, according to Dagher.

"We have a competitive advantage," said Baldacci. "We are perfectly situated close to the Gulf of Maine, one of the world's best wind resources."

The floating test turbines will be anchored in water as deep as 300 feet and up to 3 miles away from each island. Plans call for the first turbines to be on site in 2011, with the possibility of larger units to be added two years later.

The three sites, selected by a consortium of government and private agencies, include one off Boon Island, near the southern Maine town of York; one off Damariscove Island near the town of Boothbay; and a third near Monhegan Island, located about 25 miles from Maine's midcoast region.

All three sites measure between 1 and 2 square miles. Because they are in Maine's territorial waters, the state will retain regulatory authority of the projects.

The Monhegan site is reserved for Dagher's team, which recently received an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create the Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Center, to be located at Monhegan.

The Boon and Damariscove sites will be open for private industry testing.

With its long and rugged coastline, Maine could also have the potential to produce power by wave energy. This possibility is expected to be measured at all three sites.

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