Thursday, December 5, 2013
By JEFFREY THALER and ANTHONY W. BUXTON
A Maine company, Maine Aqua Ventus, whose three general partners consist of two world-class businesses -- Cianbro and Emera -- and Maine Prime Technologies, a spinoff company representing the University of Maine, submitted its proposal Aug. 30 to the Maine Public Utilities Commission in response to a request for proposals for offshore wind development.
The Maine Aqua Ventus proposal was filed as a confidential document, consistent with the procedure that all other PUC request for proposal bidders, including Statoil and Ocean Renewable Power Co., have followed with their proposals over the years.
Currently, a number of voices have suggested that Maine Aqua Ventus should voluntarily make public the confidential information in its proposal. However, this would change the rules and process previously followed by the PUC, which are designed to encourage companies to submit request for proposal responses in a confidential docket.
To change that process now, targeting the Maine Aqua Ventus project, would create a precedent that could discourage future potential bidders to Maine requests for proposals as well as potentially disadvantage the Maine Aqua Ventus project.
The Maine Aqua Ventus proposal results from years of groundbreaking research and Gulf of Maine data gathering by the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center, its major partners and more than 25 other companies and institutions throughout the world.
The project is uniquely designed to survive in the Gulf of Maine, and be built by Maine businesses employing Maine workers. These efforts have been funded largely by federal grants in support of the United States' goal of competitively priced offshore wind farms by the year 2020.
The University of Maine has previously won U.S. Department of Energy funding through a competitive process in which all proposals remain confidential.
In the second phase, beginning in early 2014, Maine Aqua Ventus will be one of seven confidential proposals competing for up to three projects that the Department of Energy will fund with up to $46 million each.
When combined with other financing, such as the long-term power contract that Aqua Ventus is seeking from the PUC, these grants will fund the deployment of technologies that the Department of Energy believes can eventually be upsized into cost-effective 500-megawatt or larger floating offshore wind farms.
If Maine Aqua Ventus were to make public its proposal containing confidential information, it would be taking a unilateral step not taken by any of its national and international competitors -- not Statoil of Norway, not Dominion Resources of Virginia, not Fishermen's Energy of New Jersey, Lake Erie Development Corp. of Ohio, Baryonyx Corp. of Texas or Principle Power of Seattle. All of these are serious competitors, and none of them has revealed any proposal documents to date.
It is clearly challenging for a Maine business to compete with one of the world's largest oil companies (Statoil), one of the largest utilities in the United States (Dominion) and the four other competitors. Releasing the game plan and playbook would only create competitive disadvantages.
Finally, there is more at stake here than just winning a competition. Maine Aqua Ventus, its members and suppliers have created a set of possibly game-changing technological advances.
These advances create the potential to farm the powerful, consistent winds of the Gulf of Maine and supply carbon fuel-free energy with minimal environmental impact. The key step is to have these advances rigorously tested in the Gulf of Maine.
We would hope that all Mainers are proud that their nationally recognized research university can appropriately partner with national and international entities to compete at a world-class level in the development of offshore floating wind technology. Scores of Maine businesses and hundreds of Maine students have already participated in this great challenge.
If Maine Aqua Ventus wins a contract from the PUC and the federal Department of Energy competition in 2014, the next step will be taken in harnessing the great potential of the Gulf of Maine to meet our region's energy needs and humanity's need for climate-benign energy production.
Jeffrey Thaler is assistant counsel to the University of Maine, and Anthony W. Buxton of Preti Flaherty is counsel to Maine Aqua Ventus I GP LLC.