A decade ago, researchers at the University of Maine began figuring out how to use the strong, steady winds that blow over deep water to generate electricity.

The goal was to develop an industry, not a product. On Wednesday, the industry arrived.

New England Aqua Ventus, the joint venture that is bringing UMaine’s research to market, announced an agreement with the Maine Building and Construction Trades Council  promising to use union labor as work begins to assemble a pioneering wind turbine supported by a floating platform.

The project will create hundreds of good-paying jobs for carpenters, ironworkers, electricians and other skilled laborers over the next two years, the developers said.

That could grow to thousands of jobs in a decade, as states along the East Coast seek to fulfill ambitious commitments to buy offshore wind energy as part of their effort to combat climate change.

The first step for Aqua Ventus will be building a single platform for a wind turbine that is planned to be anchored in state waters off Monhegan Island by the end of 2023.

The turbine is the final stage of the research phase of the project, giving the company and its regulators information to develop rules of the road for how ocean wind projects can coexist with other marine uses, including fishing and shipping.

The fact that there will be only one turbine doesn’t mean it’s a small project. It is not.

The platform will be made of 10,000 tons of reinforced concrete, cast in truck-sized chunks at several sites and delivered for assembly in Searsport. That’s more concrete, the company notes, than went into the new bridge between Kittery and Portsmouth.

The timing of the project couldn’t be better.

Seven Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, from Massachusetts to Virginia, have committed to buying 30,000 megawatts of ocean wind power by 2035. They are beginning by developing projects off their own shores, leasing sites from the federal government on the coastal shelf, where the water is shallow enough to support turbines with fixed foundations on the sea floor.

But Aqua Ventus’ investors believe that those sites will not be enough to meet growing demand, and the states will need power generated in deeper water.

And that means they will need the floating platform technology that is being developed here.

Maine is a logical place to build and launch these platforms, because we are close to the wind resource and we have the ports that can handle the work.

If the industry grows here, it would mean jobs on shore for Maine people, building and maintaining these clean-energy generators.

Fighting climate change requires us to achieve two enormous transitions in a very tight timeframe:

We need to produce much more electricity than we do now so we can power transportation, heating and industrial processes. And we need to generate that electricity from renewable sources that don’t produce greenhouse gases.

Ocean wind could play a big role in both of those transitions. Maine’s homegrown industry is arriving right on time.


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