There's enough wind power potential right now off the Atlantic coast to power five million homes, according to a report released today by coalition of environmental, conservation and alternative energy groups.
The study calls on state leaders up and down the East Coast to actively pursue offshore wind exploration. These efforts in Maine have lost momentum over the past year.
A year ago, it looked as though Maine was poised to play a leading role in offshore wind power exploration on the East Coast. That could still happen. But right now at least, there's a lot more uncertainty surrounding the future of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine.
Dylan Vorhees is clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "Maine has done some good things," Voorhees says. "We are trying to develop a form of offshore wind, using floating turbines that can be out in deeper waters."
Vorhees is quick to mention the University of Maine's Aqua Ventus project. The 12-megawatt offshore development got the blessing of the Maine Public Utilities Commission back in January.
Gov. Paul LePage had pressured the commission to re-open its competitive bidding process for offshore wind to give the UMaine team a chance. But once it did, another potential player in the market, Norwegian company Statoil, abandoned plans to build a $120 million development off the Maine coast.
"It's clear that we've fumbled the ball a bit with Statoil," Voorhees says. "We need to move forward and capture the positive steps we've had. We need to ripen them and work with the assets we have."
But the state's remaining project, Aqua Ventus, suffered a blow this spring, when the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a research and development grant that was much smaller than expected.
The concern, among supporters of offshore wind, is that Maine, despite the enormous potential off its coast, will fall further behind other states. "The federal government has identified over a million-and-a-half acres of federal waters as designated for offshore wind energy," says Catherine Bowes, with the National Wildlife Federation
Bowes is one of the authors of "Catching the Wind," a report on the windpower opportunities off the East Eoast. "The opportunity now is really before the states. We've got two projects on track for construction next year, up in New England," she says.
Those projects, though, are in the waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island, not Maine.