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Maine Utility Regulators Decide To Re-open Contract For Aqua Ventus Offshore Wind Project

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
The University of Maine's Aqua Ventus offshore wind turbine in Sept. 2013.

Maine's Public Utilities Commission today re-opened consideration of consumer subsidies for a floating wind turbine project planned off Monhegan Island, potentially adding more delay to its development.

The Aqua Ventus project, spearheaded by the University of Maine, would produce up to 12 megawatts of electricity. Eventually, the project could be expanded to produce much more, if the pioneering floating-platform technology proves successful.

Four years ago, regulators approved a consumer subsidy for the project, amounting to about 73 cents a month on an average residential electricity bill. But members of the Public Utilities Commission now say they want a new look at the subsidy, as electricity markets and technologies have changed. 

Project leader Habib Dagher says recent contracts announced for significant fixed-platform offshore wind projects in Massachusetts and Rhode Island show that the sector is about to take off in the U.S.

"And we are talking to folks all over the Northeast coast who are planning the next phase of projects, which would be floating," Dagher says. "There will be a lot of energy needs as we take out nuclear plants and coal plants in the Northeast United States."

It's unclear how long the new review may take, or whether the project can meet its goal of electricity production by 2020. Dagher says project partners aren't spooked by the regulatory delay, and that the U.S. Department of Energy is sticking with its $40 million commitment to the project.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, meanwhile, says that whatever the fate of this project, the decision by appointees of Gov. Paul LePage demonstrates that his administration will do anything to thwart renewable energy development, and it sends a "tragic" message to businesses and investors.