UMaine pilot is alternate; New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon sites each get $47 million

Monhegan wind power project misses out on federal energy funding

Posted:  Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 11:30am
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VolturnUS, UMaine's proprietary offshore floating wind turbine, being deployed. The Maine Aqua Ventus I project is based on the VolturnUS technology. (Photo courtesy of Maine Aqua Ventus)

ORONO — The U.S. Department of Energy announced May 7 its finalists for the next phase of its Advanced Technology Demonstration Program. The University of Maine's offshore wind project known as New England Aqua Ventus was fourth on a list of six and failed to receive the full grant funding. Instead, it will receive $3 million for continued engineering and become an alternate for a second round of full demonstration funding.

Through the competitive process, three of the six projects, all of which are at 50 percent completion, were awarded full grants to move to the next stage, which includes the completion to 100 percent design and engineering. The winning projects are in New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon, each of which will receive as much as $47 million over a four-year period.

The Department of Energy noted that Maine's VolturnUS technology, which currently is successfully in use on a pilot scale near Castine, was highly favorable and innovative, and "with additional engineering and design, will further enhance the properties of American offshore wind technology options."

The plan was to erect two turbines at a test site two miles from Monhegan Island.

The DOE has indicated it will continue to work with UMaine to advance the design to deployment readiness.

UMaine's New England Aqua Ventus project will remain an alternate for the DOE Advanced Technology Demonstration Program, should additional federal funding become available.

Following the announcement, the Monhegan Energy Task Force, comprising 13 Monhegan residents, issued a statement responding to the U.S. Department of Energy's decision not to grant funds to Maine Aqua Ventus.

"METF was neither for nor against the MAV I offshore wind project," said Marian Chioffi, METF cochairman, in a release. "METF organized in order to keep island voices at the forefront of conversation in regards to the ocean energy test site near Monhegan. We hope that despite the funding not being granted to MAV, that communications will continue and Monhegan's best interests will be addressed in any future development at the test site."

“Monhegan is a unique place and our economy is delicately balanced between fishing and tourism,” said Tara Hire, METF cochairman, “both of which depend on the conservation of the environment on and around Monhegan.”
 
Monhegan has one of the highest electric rates in the country at $0.70/kWh, the task force said.

“The Monhegan Plantation Power District (MPPD) has been actively pursuing ways to reduce this cost with a focus on clean, economical energy sources,” the task force said. “The MAV I project presented the opportunity to tie into the wind turbines, reducing energy costs for islanders.”

In the coming year, UMaine will use the DOE funding to complete research and development and to consider the path forward, according to Jake Ward, University of Maine vice president for innovation and economic development.

"The University of Maine remains enthusiastic about the opportunities from the VolturnUS technology to tap into the largest sources of renewable energy in Maine," Ward said, in a news release. "The winds in the Gulf of Maine are still there. The need for economical, environmentally sustainable renewable energy that can create local and U.S. jobs is still an important goal for Maine and the United States. The extensive work that the UMaine lead team has completed is very important to meeting these goals."

The Monhegan Task Force wants to ensure its own seat at the table where decisions are made. Its 13 members are emphasizing direct communication with prospective developers about potential projects.

“Despite this particular proposal not being funded, our experience still serves as an important example of how communities and developers need to engage on the potential for wind development in this state,” task force member Chioffi said. “Communities like ours need to have a seat at the table in order to reach a good outcome for everyone.”


Background

Maine Aqua Ventus I is a two turbine, 12 MW floating offshore pilot project is the first of its kind in the world. Based on the University of Maine's VolturnUS technology, the project’s goal is to ultimately create a 500 MW deep water project providing clean, quiet, renewable energy out of sight of Maine's shores.

According to its website, Maine Aqua Ventus I is designed to meet the objectives of Ocean Energy Act (and subsequent Maine legislation) to yield substantial tangible economic benefits for Maine, and to lead to even larger-scale, more cost-effective offshore wind developments in the Gulf of Maine and markets worldwide.

Located off Monhegan Island, in state waters about 2.5 miles south of Monhegan Island and 10 miles from the mainland, the project’s site has strong wind resources, according to the university. The site was selected by the State of Maine through an extensive public process that resulted in three offshore wind energy test sites. The Monhegan test site was assigned by the Maine Legislature to UMaine as its wind energy research and development site.

UMaine has studied and characterized the site for over five years, yielding a rich set of data on metocean, ecological, geophysical, and geotechnical site conditions. The site also benefits from state legislation enabling streamlined regulatory and permitting processes.

The test site location also allows the opportunity to provide less expensive electricity and improved energy security to the residents of Monhegan Island, who currently pay some the highest electric rates in the United States, at nearly $0.70 per kWh. 

There are four financial components to the financial plan. First, the current partners are making investments in the project. Second, the Department of Energy (DOE) can grant the project up to $46.6 million starting in 2014. Third, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) can provide a contract to purchase power. Fourth, private sector investment could provide the remainder of project financing.

To make Maine Aqua Ventus I a reality, Emera Inc., Cianbro Corporation and Maine Prime Technologies, LLC, a spin-off company representing the University of Maine, formed a collaborative leadership team to develop, construct, and operate the project; over 25 other organizations complete the consortium.

The goal of the project is to offer Maine the opportunity to invest in and benefit from the development of transformative technology. Maine Aqua Ventus I and subsequent projects seek to create Maine jobs and support a long-term commitment to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.

Other financing components for the project include the DOE funding, a contract with the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to purchase power, and private sector investment. 


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