Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to the cost of renewable energy has stalled Maine’s chances of developing an offshore wind power industry. But this month, his acting energy director went to England to learn about the economic development and government policies around offshore wind that are creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions of dollars in investment.

Angela Monroe said that while offshore wind would still be more expensive than other energy sources for Maine, wind farms planned off the coast of Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states could hold promise for Maine companies.

“This trip was a great opportunity to learn from those directly involved about the opportunities and challenges they have faced from this large deployment,” she told the Portland Press Herald.

Representatives of Maine’s construction sector had a mixed reaction to news of the trip. They were glad the LePage administration is exploring options, but lamented that the state gave up an earlier bid to become a staging area for a new manufacturing and service sector.

“To the extent our state government is getting educated about the business opportunities, that’s a good thing,” said Steve Von Vogt, managing director of the Maine Composites Alliance. “It may be ironic that we’re going to England to get it.”

Monroe was the second Maine official to take the trip in the past six months. Bruce Williamson, one of Maine’s three Public Utilities Commission members, went last fall after Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s former energy director, was unable to attend. Woodcock resigned in November.

Monroe was part of a nine-member American delegation that visited Hull, England, in early March. The city includes an area along the Humber River branded as the Humber Energy Estuary. The trip was paid for by the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and co-sponsored by the Team Humber Marine Alliance, a 200-member group of businesses that include shipping, manufacturing and ocean services.

Among the companies active in the area is the Norwegian energy conglomerate Statoil.

Statoil developed the world’s first floating wind turbine, off Norway in 2009. In 2012, it proposed a $120 million demonstration project off Boothbay Harbor.

PUT OFF BY POLITICS IN MAINE

But Statoil left Maine after LePage forced the PUC to revisit a power purchase agreement it had approved with the company. The deal would have increased typical home electric rates by 75 cents a month, and LePage said he wanted to promote a competing project based at the University of Maine. That project, Maine Aqua Ventus, plans to test two commercial-scale floating turbines off Monhegan Island in 2019.

Put off by the politics, Statoil took its floating technology to the United Kingdom. Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating wind park, is set to produce power this year.

Statoil also is a partner at the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm in England, which will have the capacity to power 410,000 homes. Blades for this project and others are being made in Hull, at a $382 million factory built by Siemens, the German diversified technology company. More than 700 people work there.

During her visit, Monroe’s delegation went to a city square to see a 246-foot wind rotor blade built by Siemens. It’s meant to symbolize the scale of Hull’s renewable energy industry. The visit received coverage in a local newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail, and Monroe and the others were photographed next to the blade.

The activity along the Humber River is part of the U.K.’s wider embrace of ocean wind power.

The country is on track to build enough offshore wind capacity to meet up to 10 percent of its electric needs in 2020, according to a briefing paper presented by Thomas Simchak, a British Embassy energy policy adviser.

The industry represents an investment of between $24 billion and $32 billion and will create an estimated 6,830 full-time jobs.

Simchak, who led Monroe’s tour, declined to be interviewed by the Press Herald. But a representative for the British Consulate General in Boston said New England states are looking to the UK to help develop offshore wind because of the experience gained since 2000.

“We want to share that expertise with partners like Maine because we can both benefit from cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy infrastructure,” British Consul General for New England Harriet Cross said in a statement.

After years of false starts, New England and the East Coast seem poised to develop an offshore wind industry.

The first offshore wind farm in the United States was built last year, in Rhode Island, with a second phase planned for 2019. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill requiring utilities to seek contracts for a massive amount of offshore wind, through a bidding process set to begin this spring. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced unsolicited lease requests from two developers for offshore wind sites in New York and Massachusetts. One of them was Statoil.

These projects are targeted for shallow water, where turbine towers are set in the seabed. That’s what was built in Rhode Island, using a conventional method pioneered in Europe. These wind farms wouldn’t involve the experimental, floating technology that was proposed in deepwater off Boothbay Harbor by Statoil, or being developed now by the Aqua Ventus team at UMaine.

But if Statoil had moved ahead in Maine and developed a supplier network in 2012, Von Vogt said, it might have given the state a leg up over our competitors to the south.

‘WE MISSED A GREAT OPPORTUNITY’

Von Vogt said Maine companies already are working on offshore wind planning and development in southern New England and New York, and getting prequalified to bid into the Massachusetts process. His company, Maine Marine Composites, did some work for the Rhode Island wind farm.

“I think we missed a great opportunity here,” he said. “My goal is not to miss them going forward.”

Matt Marks, chief executive officer for Associated General Contractors of Maine, wasn’t aware that state officials had been overseas to study offshore wind, but was happy they were exploring those options. He noted Cianbro Corp. is a partner in Aqua Ventus and that several members, including Reed & Reed, have years of experience with land-based wind projects.

But Marks also said he’d like to see more leadership from the governor’s office in helping companies participate in wind power development. LePage didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story sent through his spokeswoman.

STRONG IMPRESSIONS LINGER

Williamson said he hasn’t spoken to LePage about his experience in England, but he came back with some strong impressions.

One is that Maine should be realistic about what it can gain. In Hull, he said, he learned that Siemens changed earlier plans to build turbines in the city, in favor of Germany. Based on discussions, he suspected that Statoil would have kept turbine manufacturing in Norway, despite hopes in Maine that the expensive components could have been produced here.

Traveling with officials from Massachusetts and Maryland, he also came to understand how they were preparing for offshore wind in their backyards. It will be an uphill climb, he said, for Maine businesses.

“Maine has to compete with states that are just as eager to get these jobs,” he said. “So my lesson was, don’t be naive or uninformed. Look at what other states are doing.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

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