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Business and Economy

UMaine-Led Offshore Wind Project Gets $3.7 Million Boost

ORONO, Maine — Maine's offshore wind power project has received a shot in the arm, in the form of a $3.7 million federal award.

Under a consortium led by the University of Maine in Orono, the Maine Aqua Ventus has been working to development a two-turbine, 12-megawatt project that will be located off the coast of Monhegan Island.

After losing out last year to three other states competing for a $47 million federal grant, the future prospects for Aqua Ventus were anything but certain. But the U.S. Department of Energy's announcement of a $3.7 million award for the project does more than breathe new life into the demonstration project involving deep-water floating wind turbines.

Sen. Susan Collins says the latest award, the second in as many years, places Maine on a level playing field with Virginia, Oregon and New Jersey, where offshore turbine projects are underway.

"The fact that the department is now committing an additional $3.7 million on top of the $3 million last year will allow Maine to compete at the same level as the three projects that were originally chosen, because now the funding will be equalized," Collins says.

In addition to regulatory and cost obstacles, the three other states that are experimenting with offshore wind power turbines have also failed to sign a power purchase agreement, which is a critical step in moving forward.

U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine says that while the three states have received project extensions from the Energy Department, Aqua Ventus has already won approval for a power purchase agreement, giving it a significant advantage. King says the additional $3.7 million should satisfy any lingering questions the department might have over the engineering assumptions contained within Aqua Ventus plans for floating two six-megawatt deep wind turbines off Monhegan Island.

"That's why this announcement today is important because it will allow the University of Maine and Cianbro and the consortium to finalize those things and get the third-party validation that can give the Department of Energy the comfort that this is a real viable project," King says. "We've got great wind, we've got a great location and we have a power purchase agreement, which the other projects don't have."

"We've met all of our goals that the DoE set out for us over the year and showed them that our technology will reduce costs," says Dr. Habib Dagher, who heads up the research division of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

He says he is encouraged by the award and reports significant progress on the floating concrete hull designs for the project, which Dagher says appears to be meeting the criteria set by the Department of Energy.

"They want reducing costs, they want local jobs and we've shown them that it does that," Dagher says.

Patrick Woodcock, director of Gov. Paul LePage's energy office, says he recently voiced support for the Aqua Ventus Project during a White House summit on offshore wind. And while the governor opposed a major offshore project four years ago proposed by the Norwegian firm Statoil, the administration says it supports the UMaine consortium's project, which it believes will deliver significantly lower energy costs to Maine ratepayers and has the potential of generating thousands of jobs.

Still, Woodcock says cost reductions must be a primary goal for the project if the state hopes to win the full $47 million federal grant.

"It's an encouraging development but there's a lot more work that needs to be done," Woodcock says.

Maine's U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin praised the UMaine consortium for delivering a proposal that was on scheduled and within projected costs.