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May 30, 2024

Maine gets OK for floating offshore wind research array on federal waters

A rendering shows a wind turbine mounted on a floating rig. Rendering/ Courtesy UMaine The University of Maine designed and developed a floating platform for offshore wind turbines.

The federal government agreed this week to lease a 15.2-square-mile site to Maine, to develop the nation’s first floating offshore wind research site in federal waters. 

The offer comes on the heels of other recent developments. The University of Maine looks to work with entities in the United Kingdom on applicable floating wind platform technology. And the Governor’s Energy Office launched the Maine Clean Energy Jobs Network.

Research lease

"Offshore wind offers our state a tremendous opportunity to harness abundant clean energy in our own backyard, to create good-paying jobs and drive economic development, and to reduce our over-reliance on fossil fuels and fight climate change,” said Gov. Janet Mills.

Mills said her administration would review the lease offer, from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to the state, in the coming weeks.

The state applied for the lease in 2021, after the legislature passed LD 336, "An Act to Encourage Research to Support the Maine Offshore Wind Industry.” The act authorizes the Maine Public Utilities Commission to negotiate a contract for up to 144 megawatts of energy from the array.  

The lease area is about 45 miles off Portland. The proposal for the array includes up to 12 turbines placed on floating concrete platforms designed and developed by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center. 

The lease is intended to allow researchers to study interactions of the array with the marine environment, fishing industry, shipping and navigation routes and to inform commercial development of the technology.

This map shows the Maine coast and a gridded block with the lease area.
Image / Courtesy BOEM
The gridded block shows the research array lease BOEM has offered to Maine.

The state has 30 days to accept, reject or request modifications to the lease.  

In its environmental assessment leading up to the offer, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management determined the array would have no significant impact on the environment.

The Governor’s Energy Office released a plan last year that offers strategies for Maine to realize economic, energy and climate benefits from offshore wind, in conjunction with communities, fisheries and wildlife around the Gulf of Maine.

According to the plan, 80 Maine companies are engaging in the U.S. offshore wind industry, and the industry could generate more than $100 billion in private investment by 2030.

In 2020, two firms with global expertise in offshore wind energy signed on with UMaine as partners to develop the research project.

Diamond Offshore Wind and RWE Renewables said they would invest $100 million to build the project and help demonstrate the technology at full scale. 

Diamond Offshore Wind is a subsidiary of Diamond Generating Corp. and Mitsubishi Corp. RWE Renewables is an international renewable energy company.

In 2023, RWE sold its shares of Maine’s research array to Diamond, according to a news release.

UK connection

Last month, UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center announced a new partnership, with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory and two business accelerator programs in the United Kingdom — Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Innovate UK — to bring applicable technology developed in the UK to floating wind platform developers in the U.S.

Up to five UK companies will be chosen to engage with the U.S. partners to develop technologies or adapt pre-existing technologies that can be used in testing and demonstration of floating offshore wind platforms.

Energy jobs

The latest offshore wind development comes as the Governor’s Energy Office launches the Maine Clean Energy Jobs Network, an online directory that connects jobseekers to Maine-based clean energy employers and training opportunities

The recruiting tool is designed to connect skilled jobseekers with a growing number of Maine-based clean energy employers and training programs.

The network was developed and launched in coordination with the Maine Departments of Labor and Economic and Community Development. The plan is to work with other state agencies, employers, schools and colleges, workforce training organizations, and industry to expand job opportunities in Maine’s clean energy sector. 

Jobseekers and Maine-based employers hiring for clean energy jobs are invited to join the network, post jobs, explore open positions and learn about clean energy training programs. The network is free to join and will be promoted through a marketing campaign that will kick off later this year.

Fast growth

The number of clean energy jobs in Maine has surpassed 15,000, increasing faster in Maine than any other New England state, according to a news release.

The clean energy sector contributed $2.31 billion to Maine’s economy in 2022, according to an independent report released by GEO. 

According to the report, Maine’s clean energy sector grew more than three times faster than the state’s overall economy between 2016 and 2022 and now employs more than 15,020 people, which exceeds pre-pandemic levels and puts Maine on a pathway to reach the state’s goal of 30,000 clean energy workers in Maine by 2030.  

“The network is a game-changer for clean energy businesses who are looking to grow and scale operations in Maine,” said Eliza Donoghue, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. 

Richard Burbank, president of Evergreen Home Performance and a Clean Energy Partnership Advisory Group member, said the network would help New Mainer immigrant workers access resources in their native language. 

“We’re committed to providing a wide range of high-quality, affordable and relevant clean energy training programs, and this new website is a great way to connect jobseekers with the training that works for them,” said David Daigler, president of the Maine Community College System. 

Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said Maine is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of clean energy jobs and the number of people trained for those roles.

In 2022, GEO awarded $2.9 million in grants to nine entities for clean energy workforce development programs to attract new workers, provide career training and upskilling, increase diversity and representation, and facilitate entry into the clean energy job market. 

In December 2023, the office awarded another $1.3 million in grants to three entities to support clean energy innovation through new business accelerator and incubator programs to be launched in Portland, Brunswick and Waterville.

Using $2 million in federal funds through congressionally directed spending secured by U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, GEO is now seeking applications for clean energy and energy efficiency workforce development and training programs through a request for applications.

The funds are intended to support programs such as clean energy job training, job placement services, stipends, equipment, curriculum or other related services for Maine residents 16 years and older. 

As of May 30, there were 181 jobs posted. To view the job board, click here.

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