The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to dedicate $20 million to develop and test deepwater offshore wind technologies, a decision expected to direct more federal research money to Maine.

Today’s announcement follows a visit earlier this month to a deepwater wind research lab at the University of Maine by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The visit came at the request of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who said the new funding commitment marks the first time that the department has dedicated specific funding for deepwater offshore wind energy research and development.

“Given its significant work and advancements in research in this area, the University of Maine is well positioned to receive this funding,” Collins said.

Collins invited Chu to visit the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center, to see the work being done to advance offshore wind energy development. Collins previously secured a total of $25 million for the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine.

The funding announcement was welcomed by Habib Dagher, director of the composites center. The money, Dagher, said, will help Maine meet its goal of building the world’s first floating wind turbine, a $60 million project scheduled for 2012.

“This is a game changer,” he said.

The president’s earlier budget request was sent to the Congress before Chu’s visit to Maine and didn’t include this specific funding. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Collins said she will work to ensure that “the lion’s share of these funds go to UMaine, which leads the nation in deepwater offshore wind energy development.”

Collins, a longtime supporter of the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine, said that she’s delighted by this funding commitment and called it a “vital step that will help harness the vast potential of deepwater offshore wind energy and lead to the potential creation of some 15,000 new jobs.”

In a letter to Collins from the agency announcing the $20 million commitment, a top department official described Chu’s visit to UMaine as “informative and inspiring.”

The letter added: “We look forward to continuing our work together to harness the power of deepwater wind and pave the way for energy independence and job creation in Maine and across the country.”