January 22, 2013

Maine Voices: Offshore energy pilot project would help Maine meet critical goals

Over time, Hywind Maine could create thousands of jobs and make our state the hub of a new industry.

By SETH GOODALL Special to the Press Herald

RICHMOND - It has been many years since Maine has had the unique opportunity to be home to a significant new industry, one that can transform our economy and put people back to work with good-paying jobs.

Statoil North America is currently negotiating with the Maine Public Utilities Commission to build a major research and development project in the waters off Boothbay Harbor. Called Hywind Maine, the pilot program would feature four first-of-their-kind floating turbines in the deep water close to our coast.

The turbines, once built, would produce 12 megawatts of electricity. But the impact of the project goes far beyond the energy that it will produce.

To build the turbines and test the technology, Statoil will invest more than $120 million into Maine's economy, creating hundreds of jobs during the planning and construction phase. The investment will then grow by more than $4 million a year for 20 years as the company maintains and operates the site.

Statoil is a world leader in the development of offshore, floating wind turbines and Maine has the opportunity to be an incubator for a technology that could transform our state's energy future and create thousands of jobs over time.

In the early 1940s, visionary leaders such as Frederick Terman understood the importance of supporting entrepreneurs to start new businesses close to Stanford University, in California's Santa Clara Valley. Over time, as a critical mass of expertise and innovation grew up around the school, Silicon Valley was born and became the center of a new-age industrial revolution.

The opportunity to play host to such innovation is rare. Maine has that opportunity. We must now take advantage of it.

The wind energy resources that exist in the Gulf of Maine have the potential to forever alter power production in the Northeast, making our state the hub for renewable energy and helping to reduce our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

Statoil has shown a commitment to Maine and to the businesses in our state. The company has committed to using local contractors for the project here, and it has also committed to using them for any large offshore wind park the company might build anywhere between Maryland and Maine.

The company is collaborating with the University of Maine on developing the technology for the turbines, a partnership that not only helps students but also helps to cement the school's place as a center of innovation in the Northeast.

Additionally, the company has agreed to accept substantial risk on the pilot project and has reduced substantially the costs it would charge for the power it generates. This company has demonstrated that it is a good corporate partner for the state.

For Maine companies such as Bath Iron Works, Cianbro or Reed & Reed, the Statoil project presents an incredible opportunity to diversify their businesses and develop the cutting-edge expertise to capitalize on offshore energy projects around the world.

Hewlett-Packard may have started in California, but it grew into an international powerhouse. The Hywind Maine Project gives Maine companies similar opportunities to grow, to become part of a global supply chain and take advantage of an important, emerging technology.

Maine has sought out the chance to play this role. In 2010, the Legislature passed the Ocean Energy Act, which set an aggressive goal of attracting the development of offshore energy projects. Maine's commitment since 2010 has helped make that project possible and is also at the heart of Statoil's interest in Maine.

Statoil is currently involved in negotiations with the PUC over terms of the development. In October, the PUC asked the company to improve elements of the deal that it's offering the state. The company has responded with a stronger proposal that reaffirms its commitment to Maine.

The PUC deserves credit for pushing for a better deal. The commissioners' hard work and diligence has paid off.

The commission is scheduled to deliberate on the revised proposal on Thursday. Comments so far in the process have been overwhelmingly positive, and the project has earned the support of the business and environmental communities.

It's my hope that the PUC can close the deal and bring this incredible project home for our state. The economic activity it will generate, the jobs it will create, the innovation it will spark and the opportunity it will foster will help Maine today and change our energy future for the better.

Everyone always talks about attracting businesses to Maine. Well, one has come to us, and now is not the time to let it get away.

Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, is the Maine Senate majority leader, representing Sagadahoc County and Dresden in Lincoln County.

 

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