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May 11, 2017

Monhegan offshore wind project passes key hurdle

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. Lawmakers on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted Wednesday to kill a bill that would have blocked installing two full-size wind turbines from being placed about two-and-a-half miles off Monhegan Island.

Lawmakers on the Legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee killed a bill that would have blocked the New England Aqua Ventus 1 project from building two 6-megawatt wind turbines two-and-a-half miles off Monhegan Island.

The Portland Press Herald reported that opponents of the University of Maine-led pilot project, who are supporting the bill, were outnumbered almost 2-to-1 by supporters of the wind project at the committee's May 2 public hearing.

The newspaper reported that the energy committee unanimously rejected the bill on Wednesday.

In a Feb. 7 presentation to the committee, Habib Dagher, project leader for the UMaine-led consortium involved in the Aqua Ventus project, told lawmakers that moving the test site beyond three miles of Monhegan would put it in federal waters and delay the project by close to five years due to the lengthy federal permitting process.

"Basically, it would kill the project," he said at that time.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, had said measure is critical to safeguard the iconic island's scenery as well as protect the population of migratory birds that use the island as an important landfall along the North Atlantic Flyway.

The Press Herald reported that Jake Ward, vice president for Innovation and Economic Development at UMaine, said the offshore wind pilot project still faces a year-long review by the federal Department of Energy and other agencies.

"We still have a long process ahead of us, but it was an encouraging vote," Ward said.

The Aqua Ventus project is one of only two projects still in the running for $40 million Department of Energy, contingent on reaching specific milestones and subject to continued congressional appropriations.

In his Feb. 7 presentation to the energy committee, Dagher said the Monhegan pilot project offers a unique opportunity to prove the effectiveness of the concrete floating hull technology and potentially create demand for Maine-made units not only for commercial offshore wind projects in the Gulf of Maine but for any offshore wind project.

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