Ken Fletcher, the director of Maine’s state energy office, got a chance last week to back away from some earlier statements about the future of offshore wind power.
Fletcher had been quoted expressing skepticism about the LePage administration’s interest in a power source that would be more expensive than the above-average prices Mainers pay already. But Fletcher was reacting to a price target from a demonstration project, not the full-scale offshore wind farm that would be built only if the demonstration were a success. That development is projected to produce competitively priced power by the end of the decade.
Such a negative message coming from the governor’s top energy adviser, on the eve of a national ocean energy conference in Portland, could have been disruptive to an industry that is on the verge of viability after a long period of slow incubation.
Fortunately, Fletcher attended the conference, took part in a panel discussion and moderated his earlier comments. He also made a good point that is worth repeating: It’s not just about the power that you buy.
“The real opportunity we see is though our R&D, manufacturing and assembly,” Fletcher said.
He’s right. In addition to the benefit of buying clean power, Mainers would benefit even more from being the home base of a new industry that would create jobs and keep energy dollars from leaving the state.
Building and servicing what would be among the first floating wind turbines in the world would be a source of employment, and would provide new lines of work for the state’s shipbuilding and construction companies. General Dynamics, corporate parent of Bath Iron Works, and Cianbro Corp., the state’s largest construction company, were at the conference and expressed an eagerness to get involved.
Maine has steady wind blowing off its shores. It has manufacturing capacity and a history of high-quality workmanship. It is also close enough to the major energy-consuming cities of the Northeast to be a power exporter.
Some place on the map will end up being the hub of this new industry, if indeed the experiments prove that it is possible on the scale needed to make the power affordable. Some place will be the beneficiary of private investment and host the high-skill jobs.
“Why not Maine?” asked Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue. That’s a good question, and one that the governor should be asking, too.