June 8, 2011

Companies anxious over LePage stand on offshore wind

As a key conference nears, offshore energy backers counter a news story reporting weakness in Maine's commitment.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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The windmills of the Thanet Offshore Wind Farm stand off Ramsgate, England. A story headlined “LePage administration questions feasibility of offshore wind power” appeared in the Bangor Daily News last week, two weeks before a major industry conference in Portland.

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COMING TO PORTLAND
For more information on EnergyOcean International’s conference, June 14-16 at Holiday Inn by the Bay, go to energyocean.com

Condor is developing a two-blade turbine that's meant to be less costly and more robust in high-wind locations. It plans a pilot project in Italy in 2013, and has applied for a permit in Massachusetts.

Maine has an attractive wind resource and a skilled manufacturing sector, Dackerman said, and is being considered for future projects.

"But we cannot ignore that the new administration isn't embracing the offshore wind industry," he said. "We need to go to the path of least resistance."

Such a reaction is disturbing to Williamson, who represents Maine companies that are trying to partner with international energy firms such as Condor to develop a multibillion-dollar supply and generation industry in Maine. Williamson said he has been stressing that LePage is strongly pro-business and wants to reduce costs for companies that operate here.

Fletcher said the intent of his comments was to tamp down any expectations that LePage would support energy policies that add to ratepayers' costs.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is evaluating bids from companies that are interested in developing a small pilot project with floating turbines. It's part of a sweeping ocean energy law passed by the last Legislature.

The law limits how much electricity rates could increase on long-term contracts from the pilot project: 14 cents per kwh above the market price for 25 megawatts.

But LePage would rather have the state treat wind power as it does other economic development opportunities, Fletcher said, and support them through the General Fund, or perhaps tax credits and bond issues. Maine voters approved an $11 million bond for technology research in June 2010.

"Source it directly, rather than put it in electric rates," Fletcher said.

The EnergyOcean International conference and exhibition brings together top players in tidal, wave and wind power research and development. The three-day event came to Maine in 2009 and included a welcoming speech by Baldacci. Its return two years later reflects the state's strong potential for ocean energy.

LePage isn't scheduled to attend, but Fletcher will participate in a panel discussion on Maine's energy policies that will include Williamson, officials from Cianbro Corp. and Bath Iron Works, and Habib Dagher, the UMaine professor who is leading the state's offshore wind efforts.

Fletcher said he plans to use the opportunity to reassure the industry that while LePage has questions and concerns about offshore wind power, the governor welcomes its economic potential.

Dagher said he plans to follow up with Fletcher over the next few weeks and explain the details of how researchers have arrived at their cost projections.

"In the end of the day, our goal is to get the cost of electricity down," Dagher said. "We want the same thing."

In the meantime, Williamson is walking a diplomatic tightrope, trying to calm the industry's jitters while maintaining good relations with the new administration.

"Our goal is to work with the governor to refine his message," Williamson said. "We want to simply maintain the communication that the state of Maine is open for business investment."

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: tturkel@pressherald.com

 

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