March 25, 2010

Panel backs near-shore wind, tide power bill

Members of the committee vote unanimously to set targets and restrictions for how the state can capitalize on these natural resources.

AUGUSTA — Lawmakers voted Wednesday to encourage the state, the University of Maine system and other supporters of offshore wind energy to buy it at a premium rate to help absorb the extra cost of producing it. Initially wind and tide power is expected to cost more than the standard cost of electricity.

The state Public Utilities Commission told the committee it could set up an "ocean power offering" from which consumers could buy electricity generated by wind turbines. "We've got to think outside the box here," said Rep. Ken Fletcher, R-Winslow, during a Utilities and Energy Committee work session on L.D. 1810, a bill that came out of last year's Ocean Energy Task Force. "If we in the state government won't put that in the state budget, because of the 15,000 jobs and the billions in investment, why would we put it to ratepayers?"

Members of the committee voted unanimously to recommend the bill pass as amended. The measure acknowledges there is significant potential to produce electricity from the wind, tide and waves in the ocean off the Maine coast, and sets targets and restrictions for how the state can capitalize on that potential.

But the benefits of offshore power generation appear to be several years away.

His comments came a day after Habib Dagher, director of the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center and Bath Ironworks Professor of Structural Engineering at the University of Maine, told the committee that up to 300 construction jobs could be created by 2012 with a scaled-down, floating wind turbine prototype the University of Maine has already received a $12.1 million federal grant to build.

Dagher said a 25-megawatt pilot project could be running by 2016. This would involve floating turbines at least 10 miles from inhabited shore. The bill sets a goal of building a total of 5,000 megawatts of generating capacity offshore by 2030, which is more than twice the state's current demand. The state hopes to export the rest. The bill set short-term goals of developing near-shore wind power, but now is more focused on deep-water projects.

Currently, there is only one commercial floating wind turbine operating, according to state officials. It is off the coast of Norway. Karen Tilberg, senior policy adviser for Gov. John Baldacci, said that while many states were building near-shore wind power projects, Maine's experienced maritime work force and proximity to deep coastal waters makes it possible for floating offshore turbines to be Maine's "calling card."

"We could be the incubator for the United States," Tilberg said in an interview. "This could be just a huge economic benefit for Maine over time."

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com

 

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