November 16, 2015

UMaine offshore wind project lands $3.7 million federal grant

File photo / James McCarthy
File photo / James McCarthy
Habib Dagher, director of UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center, in front of the VolturnUS prototype wind turbine deployed off the shores of Castine in 2014.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Energy will award an additional $3.7 million to the offshore wind project designed by a University of Maine-led consortium.

The funding builds on the $3 million committed to the project, Maine Aqua Ventus 1, in May 2014, when it was named an alternate to offshore projects in New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon that were awarded $46.7 million grants in the second phase of the federal Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration Project to help them achieve commercial operation by 2017.

"We are thrilled that the Department of Energy continues to recognize the enormous potential of the Aqua Ventus project and its innovative deepwater, offshore wind technology," Collins and King said in a joint statement. "With this additional investment of $3.7 million, the Aqua Ventus project will be on a level playing field with the other demonstration projects and competitive for potentially advancing to the construction phase of the demonstration program."

Maine's U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, in a joint statement, noted that unlike the UMaine project, the other projects so far have failed to win a power purchase agreement — a contract to sell the electricity they would produce. They asked DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz to advance the additional funding that would enable the Aqua Ventus project to be considered for further funding next year when the other projects will be assessed.

Habib Dagher, director of UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center and principal investigator of the DeepCwind Consortium, said the additional funding will help the UMaine team "complete all aspects of the project planning, negotiate supply contracts with industrial partners and approach financial close for the project."

Dagher said the UMaine team has been completing the design work for a larger floating concrete offshore wind platform utilizing the technology successfully demonstrated by the 1:8 scale VolturnUS pilot project that had been deployed off Dyce's Head in Castine.

"We continue to make significant progress by demonstrating the technical and cost reduction advantages of the VolturnUS floating concrete offshore wind technology," Dagher said in a statement included in the announcement made by Sens. Collins and King. "Our team is busy putting the final touches on the design of the 6-megawatt hulls for the 12MW demonstration project."

In January 2014, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a term sheet for the UMaine-led consortium, which includes Cianbro Corp. and Emera Inc., involving a 20-year contract to sell power generated by two 6MW wind turbines that will be installed in the Gulf of Maine near Monhegan Island. The power purchase agreement would sell up to 43,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity to the grid at a price of 23 cents per kilowatt hour – which is 4 cents per kilowatt hour less than the price earlier approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission for the $120 million Hywind Maine pilot project of Norwegian energy company Statoil that was scuttled in 2013.

In its term sheet proposal, the consortium promised to make at least a $120 million investment in the Aqua Ventus project and indicated that investment could rise to as much as $166 million. Upwards of 70% of the non-turbine capital expenditures would be paid to Maine-based entities, the consortium stated in its proposal.

The 6MW size of the two Aqua Ventus turbines envisioned for installation near Monhegan reflects a trend toward larger-size offshore turbines identified in the 2014-2015 U.S. Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report released by the DOE in September.

Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and King, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, cited the $3.7 million in additional funding for the Aqua Ventus project as a positive sign of DOE's continued interest in the potential of developing offshore wind power in the Gulf of Maine.

Aqua Ventus and other offshore wind projects will have until May 1 to meet additional milestones, but the UMaine project and the other selected alternate are the only projects receiving additional DOE funding, according to Collins and King's release.

Decisions about which projects to advance will be made by the DOE on May 31.

Read more

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