‘The world has changed,” noted Maine Public Utilities Commission member Bruce Williamson on Tuesday.

He was explaining his vote to delay implementation of a power purchase agreement with Maine Aqua Ventus, a public-private partnership led by the University of Maine that has developing offshore wind technology.

Williamson was talking about energy prices, and he was absolutely correct. The ability to tap into natural gas deposits that had been unaccessible just a few years ago has lowered the price of electricity, making the cost of the power that would be produced by the UMaine project – 23 cents per kilowatt-hour – look excessive compared with the 7-cent average wholesale price for the state.

But it’s worth reminding the PUC about the things that haven’t changed since the power purchase agreement was negotiated in 2013, and why reneging on this deal would be a terrible mistake for Maine.

RENEWABLE ENERGY DEMAND IS GROWING

One thing that hasn’t changed is manmade global warming, which is affecting the climate all over the world and leading governments and industries to look for ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Although the price of oil and gas may be low now, demand for renewable-energy technology, like what’s being developed off the coast of Maine, is already high and will continue to grow.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is Maine’s commitment to be the leader in developing this new technology.

Starting with passage of the Ocean Energy Act in 2010 and the approval by voters of a $11 million bond to finance the research, Maine has positioned itself well.

UMaine has designed and patented a system to mount wind turbines on floating concrete hulls that can be anchored in deep water, where the wind is the strongest.

The project has attracted an estimated $5 million in private investment, and $10 million so far from the federal Department of Energy.

The project is also in the running for another $40 million from the federal government, which would be at risk if the purchase agreement is not approved.

All that investment supports Maine jobs in the short term, and more importantly, the prospect of creating a new industry for the state that will employ Mainers well into the future.

And another thing that hasn’t changed is the nature of this project

This is not a typical power generator looking to enter Maine’s energy market. It is a prototype built to test whether the design will be able to stand up to rough conditions.

HIGH COST OF POWER WAS EXPECTED

Paying part of the project’s cost through electricity rates was envisioned by the 2010 law.

Even when oil prices were high, no one ever thought the electricity produced by the first full-size model would be a bargain. The real test of affordability would come if the demonstration is successful and a multi-turbine ocean wind farm is built that could take full advantage of the wind when it blows.

It’s important to remember that Maine would stand to benefit from the project’s success, even if the wind farms that are eventually developed are not off our coast, or are feeding power onto the grid from a Maine port.

Massachusetts is investing millions in public and private money to develop 1,600 megawatts of ocean wind. Projects off the coast of New York City are under consideration.

The currently used technology requires shallow water, so turbines can be anchored in the ocean bottom. The Maine project is the only one under development that could be used in deep water.

Maine-made concrete platforms could be towed anywhere in the world that wanted to exploit wind power.

The hardest thing in government is to have the patience and resolve to complete a complicated project that does not get done in a single election cycle. This project has been in the works for almost 20 years.

The PUC should not get shortsighted now. A small amount of expensive electricity is not too high a price to pay for what could be a new industry in Maine.

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