Nearly a month after the death of Matthew Simmons, board members and advocates of the Ocean Energy Institute are trying to figure out how to carry forward its founder’s bold ambitions.

Simmons’ death was a personal tragedy for those who knew him. In a wider sense, it was a loss for Maine and those who share Simmons’ goal of making the state a global center of ocean energy research and development.

An international oil and gas development expert from Texas, Simmons had just dedicated the institute’s offices on the Rockland waterfront in July, with an open house attended by politicians and business interests. He had been discussing plans to attract investors to an unspecified ocean energy venture with an initial public offering of up to $1 billion. That private capital could have helped speed development of an offshore wind energy industry in Maine, advisers say.

Three weeks later, on Aug. 8, came shocking news: Simmons had died of an apparent heart attack at his home on North Haven. He was 67.

Simmons and money from a private foundation he set up provided the financial basis for the Ocean Energy Institute. In the wake of his death, the institute’s board of directors has been meeting to decide how to move ahead. Options include continuing the institute as a not-for-profit research group, aligning it with another organization, pursuing a private, moneymaking venture, or perhaps a combination of these initiatives spread over time.

“Those are all things that are part of Matt’s vision, and we are working on that,” said Allen Fernald, the board’s secretary.

The board of directors has received input from Simmons’ wife and children. No consensus has been reached, but it’s likely that the four-member board will be developing a plan during the next few weeks and presenting it to the institute’s advisory board, which meets Sept. 20. The roughly three dozen advisers and the board of directors are influential people who are well-connected in business, government and ocean research. Their resources could help fill the financial and leadership void left by Simmons.

Simmons had generated controversy by making flamboyant statements about the future of conventional energy, including that the world’s oil supply had peaked. But he also was a successful investment banker with the experience of taking a bank public, and with deep national and international financial connections.

The institute’s board of directors, despite its extensive resources, isn’t in the same position, according to Peter Vigue, president and chief executive officer at Cianbro Corp., a member of the advisory board. He foresees a more strategic role of helping to lay the groundwork for attracting investment in offshore wind. One avenue might be a partnership with the University of Maine, which is collecting data at a test site off Monhegan and has received large federal grants for its wind energy research facility in Orono.

“We need to send a clear message to outside investors that Maine is speaking with one voice,” Vigue said.

An advocacy role also seems more likely to Wickham Skinner, the institute’s vice president. Creating a think tank with a small staff that works on alternative energy issues seems more realistic for now, he said.

“Without Matt, we have to go back to ground zero and see what makes sense,” Skinner said.

Pursuing private investment continues to make sense, said Habib Dagher, director of the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. The state’s point man on offshore wind, Dagher isn’t on the advisory board, but works closely with some of the members.

“The IPO is the most critical thing we can do to continue Matt’s legacy,” Dagher said of the plans to raise money through a stock offering.

Private investment would help leverage the federal money at the university and could speed development of a floating wind turbine prototype off the Maine coast. Dagher said he had been discussing this strategy with Simmons and, most recently, with Robert West, the institute’s managing director.

Two weeks ago, some advisory board members who live in Maine got together to begin discussions on the institute’s future. Nothing was decided, but there were divergent views about research versus investment, according to Des FitzGerald, vice president of business development at Principle Power Inc., a renewable energy developer.

Principle Power is on track to build the world’s second deep-water floating wind turbine off Portugal, FitzGerald said, and is interested in Maine as a potential site. The Ocean Energy Institute, he said, can honor Simmons’ vision by encouraging the industry to develop in Maine.

“If the proper decisions are made, it can be a strong leader going forward,” he said.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or:

[email protected]