Maine regulators approved a power contract with the experimental offshore wind project led by the University of Maine, an essential next step in the project’s development.

The University of Maine’s design for VolturnUS, a wind turbine mounted on a floating platform. Courtesy University of Maine

The 20-year power-purchase agreement requires Central Maine Power to buy electricity produced by a floating wind power project built by a partnership between the Maine Aqua Ventus consortium and the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center. A notice of the agreement was posted on the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s website.

The project, supported by $40 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, initially involved deploying two University of Maine-designed floating wind turbines off Monhegan Island. Under initial terms of a 2013 power-purchase agreement, CMP residential customers would have paid an additional 73 cents a month, or $8.70 during the first year of the contract.

A final version of the new contract was not available Tuesday evening.

“The commission is pleased to approve this contract which provides MAV the opportunity to demonstrate the commercial viability of this technology while also providing Maine with a new clean renewable energy resource” said Chairman Philip L. Bartlett in the online post.

Since its initial phase, the Maine Aqua Ventus project has been redesigned to accommodate larger turbines, which have become more common in the wind power industry. The latest revision shows a single 9.5 megawatt turbine, rather than two 6-megawatt turbines, floating off Monhegan. The 6-megawatt turbine was expected to produce enough electricity to power 6,000 homes a year.

UMaine and its partners are trying to capitalize on its unique platform design within the offshore wind industry. Most offshore turbines are anchored in the seabed near shore. But UMaine’s platform is designed to float, allowing the turbines to be sited much farther out to sea, where there are steadier winds and fewer fishing vessels. The distance also means the turbines should be out of the sight lines of coastal and island inhabitants.

The 20-year contract provides an essential revenue source for Maine Aqua Ventus, which it can use to convince private investors to commit to the project. The PUC last year delayed finalizing the contract because commissioners thought energy markets had changed significantly since 2013, and that the contract  should be reopened. The delay sparked concern the project might lose its federal funding.

In June, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law legislation that directed the PUC to sign the purchase power agreement.

“The PUC’s approval of this contract is a major milestone for our state’s clean energy future,” Mills said in a statement after the PUC vote Tuesday.

“Thanks to the innovative work of the University of Maine, Aqua Ventus is poised to become the first offshore wind project in the country to feature a floating platform, an advancement that cements our state’s leadership in offshore wind development and that puts Maine on the map for clean energy technology,” Mills added.

Two weeks ago, the project received another infusion of $5 million from the federal energy department. The project’s proponents expect the project will be operational by 2022.

Despite repeated delays, Maine Aqua Ventus remains poised to become the first commercial-scale floating wind farm in the United States, according to a federal energy expert who has followed the project for years.

“It’s the furthest along,” said Walter Musial, principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, in a recent interview with the Press Herald. “I don’t see any technical barriers and a lot of the political barriers have been mitigated.”

Getting the project floating in 2022 would help prove the viability of the UMaine design, just as the global floating wind industry is poised for growth. That could create a market to build the reinforced concrete hulls in Maine, as well as license the technology for construction elsewhere.

The University of Maine has estimated that Maine Aqua Ventus will produce nearly $152 million in total economic output, and more than 1,150 Maine-based jobs, including jobs for design and construction. Operations and maintenance of the facility will create an additional economic output of approximately $30 million over 20 years, according to the governor’s office.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel contributed to this report.

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