Saturday, December 7, 2013
By MATT WICKENHEISER
A consortium led by the University of Maine has been awarded as much as $8 million in federal stimulus funds to develop technology to harness winds in the Gulf of Maine.
The U.S. Department of Energy funded three wind power projects Thursday, each for as much as $8 million. The ''DeepCwind'' consortium led by UMaine is the only deepwater project among them.
''That means that the Department of Energy has recognized that Maine has a special niche that would help to contribute to the development of alternative energy for our country,'' said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. ''We have unique capabilities that the Department of Energy is recognizing through this grant.''
Maine's congressional delegation set up a meeting in June between Energy Secretary Steven Chu and state and university officials, who discussed deepwater wind power technology.
That meeting led Gov. John Baldacci, UMaine professor Habib Dagher and representatives from Collins' office to meet with officials from StatoilHydro in Norway last month. The energy company has built and deployed the world's first deepwater wind turbine, about six miles off the coast of Norway.
Maine officials visited the turbine during a trade mission to Europe last month, and signed an agreement with StatoilHydro to explore whether such technology might work in the Gulf of Maine.
Maine and Norway have similar offshore geography: the water gets very deep, very fast. That means any offshore wind farms must have floating turbines, instead of towers sunk into the seabed in shallow water, which is being done in other parts of the world.
StatoilHydro is one of 30 companies in the UMaine consortium, and the federal grant advances the agreement to explore the feasibility of deepwater wind power off the Maine coast.
''It's an ideal place to actually test this type of technology,'' Chu said Thursday. ''If it proves to work, one could deploy tremendous wind resources.''
Chu said wind power has the potential to provide 20 percent of the nation's electricity and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
''We need to position the United States as the clear leader in this industry, or watch these high-paying jobs go overseas,'' he said. ''The investment we're making today will help ensure that America has both the talent and the technology we need to compete.''
UMaine plans to design and deploy two 10-kilowatt and one 100-kilowatt deepwater wind turbine prototypes.
Two turbines will be at UMaine's deepwater offshore test site, to be chosen in December. The other will be operated and evaluated in the Isles of Shoals by the University of New Hampshire.
The consortium plans to explore using composite materials for the platform structure and blades. The work fits in with UMaine's renowned Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
''Maine continues to lead and it is a testament to the University of Maine that the secretary of energy has identified it as a cornerstone for America's clean energy revolution,'' said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
The consortium has a 10-year research, education and commercialization plan. The grant funds two years of work that will be the basis for the plan.
Eventually, Maine plans to build a five-gigawatt, $20 billion network of floating wind farms to provide renewable energy to the East Coast.
Snowe said the grant could help support as many as 430 jobs in the short term. If an offshore wind energy sector becomes a reality in Maine -- complete with fabrication of turbines and blades -- as many as 16,700 people could be employed, she said.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, noted that Maine has the offshore wind and the ''expertise and ingenuity'' of generations of boat builders and commercial fisherman who could build and service offshore wind farms.
Chu said countries around the globe are investing in green energy research and deployment to combat climate change and decrease dependence on oil.
In addition to the grant announcement, Collins said the Senate was set to finish work on a conference re port for the Energy Appropriations bill Thursday night. The bill had been approved by the House, and included a $5 million earmark that Collins put in for UMaine's deepwater wind center.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: