MONHEGAN ISLAND — It’s been over three years since Maine Aqua Ventus conceived plans to test a revolutionary design for floating wind turbine platforms 2.5 miles south of Monhegan Island. The test site was selected for the University of Maine by an act of the Legislature.
Data from UMaine weather buoys indicate that wind and wave conditions simulate what they can expect 30 to 40 miles offshore. No similar location exists in state waters. A majority of island residents believe this research and development project is an ideal fit for Monhegan.
Now a measure aimed at keeping Maine Aqua Ventus from being built is before the Legislature, and lawmakers should reject it.
Maine Aqua Ventus is not a commercial wind farm. The goal is to locate commercial wind farms in deep-ocean waters beyond the horizon, where wind power is unmatched anywhere in the continental United States. Wind is Maine’s greatest renewable resource.
Over three years ago, Maine Aqua Ventus, Central Maine Power and the Maine Public Utilities Commission signed a power purchase agreement. The agreement provides Maine Aqua Ventus with a means to recover experimental costs by selling power to CMP. It also provides banks and investors with objective ways to predict commercial viability. The agreement includes benefits to Monhegan of a power and fiber-optic cable and free electricity.
The 2009 bill that created the testing area off Monhegan limits testing to five years. The permit can be extended in three-year increments if the need is demonstrated. Everything must be removed after testing is complete. The power purchase agreement is limited to 20 years.
Serving as liaison between Maine Aqua Ventus and Monhegan is the Monhegan Energy Task Force, created by a town vote in order to gather and disseminate information on the project. After four years of debate and three surveys, the task force recommended that Monhegan form a Community Benefits Agreement Committee. During a special town meeting last July 26, residents voted 31-1 to form the committee and 30-0 to allocate $10,000 to hire a professional negotiator.
This decisive mandate to negotiate with Maine Aqua Ventus spawned the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition, a group that is opposed to negotiating with Maine Aqua Ventus and wants the test site relocated. They pay lip service to renewable energy but haven’t told some of their more tentative supporters that moving the test site will cause Maine Aqua Ventus to lose a $40 million federal grant. A vote to move the test site is a vote to destroy Maine Aqua Ventus.
The obvious question is: Why did opposition begin four years after the project was announced in its present full-scale incarnation? The Monhegan Energy Action Coalition was tardy to the point of fecklessness. A lawsuit would be deemed frivolous.
This is why they’ve gone the lobbying/public relations route. A bill to move the test site, L.D. 1262, has been proposed. The group got a glossier title, Protect Monhegan, on the advice of their PR man, Ted O’Meara, whose sentiments-for-rent began flowing to the press in opinion pieces portraying Monhegan as paradise lost.
Take the op-ed published last winter in the Maine Sunday Telegram: There’s the religious element, which compares Monhegan to David fighting Goliath. There’s a fatuous comparison of Monhegan to Mount Katahdin, as if a year-round community were trying to sustain itself on a mountain peak.
But Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s visualization of the “sacred” and “iconic” island vista depicts the “massive” turbines as completely anti-climactic – so dull that Protect Monhegan refuses to accept the study. (The study can be viewed at monheganenergy.info, under the “Resources” heading.)
Whenever Protect Monhegan speaks, I wonder if they’re talking about Monhegan or Old Sturbridge Village. They decry the sacrilege that might be visited upon their view from Federal Aviation Administration warning lights on wind turbines while they gaze at blinking red lights on microwave towers as far away as Newcastle. When is the last time they actually walked down to Lobster Cove at night and looked to the south? The horizon is lit up with powerful LED lights on fishing boats from New Harbor, Friendship, Round Pond, Cushing, Port Clyde and Tenants Harbor.
Every argument Protect Monhegan makes claiming harm to the island has been debunked. Sadly, they can’t seem to escape the Facebook “filter bubble” that keeps them clicking from one self-affirming myth to another. But there’s no reason for our lawmakers in Augusta to get caught in it, and they should repudiate L.D. 1262 and allow Maine Aqua Ventus, a potentially groundbreaking offshore wind test project, to move forward.