The University of Maine launched a prototype wind turbine off the coast of Castine in 2013. The 9,000-pound floating power generator was one-eighth the size of a commercial-size turbine that is now under development. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, file

After years of delays, a plan to build America’s first commercial-size floating wind turbine off the Maine coast could be scrapped because the project has become too large, complicated and expensive.

The proposed turbine and supporting platform, 3 miles off Monhegan Island and about 14 miles from Maine’s Midcoast, may also be superseded by a new proposal – for a research-oriented wind farm floating farther offshore.

That’s the dilemma before the top executive pursuing both ventures.

“It’s a key question,” Chris Wissemann, CEO of Diamond Offshore Wind, told the Press Herald. “It remains unanswered. I think we’re near an answer, probably this year.”

But Wissemann’s outlook isn’t shared by the University of Maine researcher who pioneered the floating platform technology in Orono.

Habib Dagher is executive director of the Advanced Structures & Composites Center, which is a partner in the project. The goal is to test the viability of a semisubmersible concrete platform, developed by UMaine, to support a wind turbine.


Dagher said his team is working to lower costs for the turbine and to assemble a single prototype at a combination of sites along the Maine coast. His goal is to get the project permitted and in the water in 2025.

“Is it a slam dunk?” Dagher said. “No, but we have a really good shot at making it happen.”

The idea dates back to 2009.

The original plan was to construct two small test platforms that would float in state waters off Monhegan by 2014 or so. The plan was to evaluate the performance of the platforms at full scale in the ocean and get a better idea of how to mass-produce the hulls for the East Coast’s offshore wind industry, then in its infancy.

A decade later, technological advances in the industry have created turbines with twice the power output that will require floating platforms the size of a football field. Fabricating and assembling a single prototype that could weigh thousands of tons would be very expensive and likely require a dedicated port facility, Wissemann said.

State officials are studying three possible locations for such a port but have yet to select one. The process is fraught with uncertainty.


Maine also has a newer and more ambitious goal: siting up to a dozen floating wind turbines to form a first-of-its kind research array in federal waters, roughly 45 miles off Portland. That wouldn’t happen until at least 2028, according to state estimates.

For all these reasons, the public-private partnership working to bring the Monhegan project to fruition, New England Aqua Ventus LLC, is trying to determine if there’s enough financial and logistical synergy between the Monhegan pilot and the research array proposal.

New England Aqua Ventus is made up of Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp., and RWE Renewables, part of a global German energy company. The companies had initially pledged $100 million to complete the project. Wissemann said they’ve already spent between $15 million and $20 million on the Monhegan venture and nearly $10 million on the proposed research array.

“We don’t want to spend tens of millions of dollars on a single turbine which isn’t useful for the research array,” Wissemann said.

The money spent so far by the university and developers isn’t for naught, however. The years of development work have helped advance the patented platform design and answer questions about what it will take to mass-produce and launch the hulls.

But until questions about the Monhegan project are answered, Wissemann said, the developers aren’t applying for the regulatory permits that would allow construction.



After years of slow progress, commercial-scale ocean wind development is ramping up along the East Coast – with 15 projects underway, according to the federal Department of Energy.

Vineyard Wind, a 62-turbine wind farm to be located 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, received its first shipment of steel towers, manufactured in Portugal, last month. The 800-megawatt project is expected to be completed next year.

Cable is being buried in federal waters 19 miles off Block Island, Rhode Island, for South Fork Wind, a 132-megawatt wind farm with a dozen turbines that will generate the power needed for 70,000 homes.

These and other East Coast projects are in shallow waters using towers fixed to the seabed, a technology refined decades ago in Europe. Farther offshore, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is identifying areas for the next phase of East Coast wind energy development – floating wind farms in the Gulf of Maine. The bureau plans to auction leases for the waters in 2024.

Wissemann expects some of the bidders to be developers that want to supply power to Massachusetts, which is soliciting new proposals for massive amounts of renewable energy.


As a renewable, clean energy source, offshore wind is a key part of meeting Maine’s climate action goals. Gov. Janet Mills has been trying to navigate a path forward with the aid of a new Offshore Wind Roadmap, which includes objectives such as balancing economic growth with protecting the state’s seafood industry and the gulf’s environment. The research array and wind port development are milestones on the roadmap, but the director of the Governor’s Energy Office, Dan Burgess, declined to be interviewed for this story on the shifting role of the Monhegan project.

The administration’s ambitions did get one boost last week. A sweeping bill meant to encourage floating offshore wind power narrowly passed in the Maine Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, on the way for consideration by the full chamber. Among other things, the bill would direct the Public Utilities Commission to seek bids, starting in 2025, for 1,000 megawatts of floating offshore capacity online by 2035.

For now, the Monhegan test turbine remains relevant. The UMaine technology was even profiled in May by CNN as part of a story on the future of floating offshore wind in America.

“The first, full-sized floating offshore wind turbine in the United States will tower 850 feet above the waves in the Gulf of Maine – roughly as tall as New York City’s famed 30 Rockefeller Plaza,” the story began.

The project could be in the water by the end of the decade, CNN reported. The story put the venture in the context of President Biden’s goal to have 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035, enough to power 5 million homes.

In the news report, Dagher wondered whether that’s achievable, but said momentum is growing.



A big obstacle to the project has been the state’s delay in finalizing a port facility where the concrete hulls could be fabricated and where the massive wind farm components could be assembled and launched.

The Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group is set to hold its last formal meeting on June 26, and provide guidance to the Maine Department of Transportation, according to MDOT spokesman Paul Merrill. The agency will continue to work on site investigation, conceptual design, and environmental and permitting work. The goal is to name a preliminary site in 2024, although the port wouldn’t be operating for another five years or so.

In this 2019 file photo, University of Maine engineering professor Habib Dagher discusses the prospect for offshore wind power in an address at the University of Maine at Augusta. File

One option is Sears Island, a 940-acre, state-owned island at the top of Penobscot Bay that’s connected to the mainland via a causeway. A 2009 state agreement set aside two-thirds of the island for conservation and the remainder for a possible container port.

But some local residents and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club want the entire island protected. Instead, they suggest a wind port development at nearby Mack Point in Searsport, which already hosts a marine terminal. Eastport, which has a deep-water cargo terminal, also is in the running.

The problem, Wissemann said, is the test project has become too large to build without a dedicated port that can handle a football-field-size hull. The port would also need a launch ramp and deep-draft pier, a laydown area for all the equipment, and a land-based crane to erect the turbine. New England Aqua Ventus is exploring stopgap options, such as renting special barges used in the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico.


“For Maine to capture the economic benefits (of offshore wind),” Wissemann said, “the first thing we need is a space to fabricate and a launch ramp. That’s where the vast majority of jobs are.”

Dagher said the UMaine team hopes to present options in the next few months to fabricate and launch the test turbine using a combination of port facilities, possibly including Eastport, Mack Point, Portland and a Cianbro Corp. manufacturing facility in Brewer.

“We believe it’s going to happen,” he said. “We have high confidence. We don’t want to wait seven years for something to go into the water.”


The slow pace of offshore wind development is frustrating to Peter Vigue, the longtime chairman of Cianbro, Maine’s largest construction firm. Cianbro built the one-eighth-scale, 90,000-pound prototype platform in 2013, and launched it by crane into the Penobscot River at Brewer.

“We talk a good story about green energy,” Vigue said, “but we have no strategy. We haven’t moved the needle a bit, and it’s a sad commentary.”

Vigue said it’s too expensive to build a single test platform now, so it probably doesn’t make sense to pursue the Monhegan project. The platforms need to be mass-produced, which means securing a port and locating the research array where it can be expanded into a commercial-scale floating wind farm.

“I think you ought to begin with the end in mind,” he said.

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