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Sprague Energy pushes wind port plan to rival Sears Island terminal

Massive wind turbine blades are being offloaded at Sprague Energy's Mack Point terminal in Searsport on June 11, 2024. The blades will be delivered to terrestrial wind farms in Maine. But the energy supplier has been making a major play to host the state's proposed floating offshore wind port.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Massive wind turbine blades are being offloaded at Sprague Energy's Mack Point terminal in Searsport on June 11, 2024. The blades will be delivered to terrestrial wind farms in Maine. But the energy supplier has been making a major play to host the state's proposed floating offshore wind port.

As the state of Maine moves ahead with plans to build a offshore wind power port on Sears Island, Sprague Energy company is pushing officials to reconsider an alternative site at its Mack Point terminal next door.

Mack Point in Searsport already serves as the exclusive port for onshore wind turbines coming in from overseas and destined for construction in northern New England. During a press tour of Sprague’s terminal on Tuesday, workers hoisted 240-foot turbine blades onto extended-bed trucks headed for wind projects in Somerset and Washington counties.

But as energy developers turn their attention to offshore wind potential, deliveries of onshore wind equipment are drying up, according to Jim Therriault, Sprague’s vice president of materials handling. The company doesn’t have any wind turbine deliveries scheduled past 2029, he said.

“The sense in the industry is that when ocean wind comes on, land wind goes away because the scale of ocean wind is so much bigger that it’s a cheaper transaction once it gets up and running,” Therriault said.

Enter Maine’s plan to turn nearby Sears Island into the first port on the East Coast capable of launching floating wind arrays into the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills this year selected state-owned land on the island as the preferred site for a purpose-built terminal that can handle massive offshore turbines. Even though Mack Point is already an industrial zone, the state concluded barriers including an expensive dredging project kept it from being a viable wind port option.

Jim Therriault, vice president of materials handling for Sprague Energy, describes how the materials loading dock behind him could be repurposed to accommodate the delivery of floating wind turbine components at the Mack Point terminal.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Jim Therriault, vice president of materials handling for Sprague Energy, describes how the materials loading dock behind him could be repurposed to accommodate the delivery of floating wind turbine components at the Mack Point terminal.

Sprague disagrees. The state used a flawed analysis to rule out Mack Point and an updated version of its plan eliminates 85% of the planned dredging and brings the cost down by about $50 million, Therriault said. A totally revamped terminal would be custom-built for the kind of offshore wind turbines developed by the University of Maine, he added.

Sprague insists the revised port proposal has advantages to the state’s Sears Island plan and should be considered as a serious alternative. All the company wants is for the state to have a third party review both plans and consider their cost and environmental impacts, Theriault said.

Under the company’s plan, large sections of Sprague’s terminal would be renovated to add space to assemble and launch turbines. Old fuel tanks would be removed to provide areas for parking and offices for hundreds of workers expected to fill the port.

Renovating Mack Point could be funded through a $456 million federal grant the state applied for last month. But staying there won’t come free — Sprague would collect rent on the land under a lease for 25 years or even more, according to Therriault.

Crews at Sprague Energy's Mack Point terminal in Searsport unload 240-foot-long blades onto massive truck beds, where they'll be delivered to onshore wind farms under construction in western Maine and Downeast.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Crews at Sprague Energy's Mack Point terminal in Searsport unload 240-foot-long blades onto massive truck beds, where they'll be delivered to onshore wind farms under construction in western Maine and Downeast.

State officials have raised rental payments as a reason to use land it owns on Sears Island instead. However, considering the $760 million price tag of the Sears Island proposal, regular lease payments might end up being a cheaper long-term alternative, Therriault added.

“Yes, the state would have operating costs with us that they don’t have at Sears Island but maybe there is a higher up front cost to build it and the two offset each other,” he said.

The Maine Department of Transportation insists that Mack Point is unsuitable for the new wind port. The dueling proposals come as Maine moves ahead with plans to install a dozen floating wind turbines at a research site in federal waters.

In a statement last week, the Maine Department of Transportation spokesperson Paul Merrill said Sears Island is regarded as one of the best places to build a deep-water port. And by available information, analysis and stakeholder input, Sears Island is “the most feasible and cost-effective location for an offshore wind port,” Merrill said.

Sprague’s CEO David Glendon said the company will keep pushing Mack Point as an alternative through extensive federal and state environmental reviews. During the press tour Tuesday, he said Sprague will highlight its property as a less impactful alternative.

“We’re hopeful that we get an honest assessment out of the state, we think candidly events like this will create some pressure on the state to consider those alternatives because if it goes through an honest assessment process, there’s real benefits to this plan,” Glendon said.