HALLOWELL — The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Tuesday to approve the terms of an offshore wind project that advocates hope will set the stage for a deep-water wind power industry that could eventually create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in spending.
The 2-to-1 vote was critical to the Maine Aqua Ventus pilot project’s ability to move forward. This spring, the federal Department of Energy will decide whether the technology behind it is innovative enough to receive a $46 million grant aimed at creating large wind farms, far out at sea, that can produce power at competitive rates.
In its deliberations, the three commissioners debated the merits of the project, including the role of government, the impact to ratepayers, and the prospects of the pilot project leading to commercial scale, floating offshore wind farms.
Power from the project would be well above current market rates, but supporters say costs are in line with other efforts to develop new offshore wind technology.
Maine Aqua Ventus is being proposed by Maine Prime Technologies, a for-profit spinoff that represents the University of Maine and two general partners: Maine-based Cianbro Corp. and Emera Inc. of Nova Scotia.
In May, the partners launched a one-eighth-scale model of a floating turbine off Castine. The unit is made of advanced composite materials designed to fight corrosion and reduce weight. Its hull is made of concrete, which can be produced in Maine and has a longer life span in the ocean than steel.
The prototype is now generating a small amount of power and collecting information. It already has endured extreme sea and wind conditions.