Update: Maine oks offshore project

The proposed 12MW pilot Maine Aqua Ventus I offshore wind project won key support from state regulators on Tuesday who voted that consumers should subsidize its development.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 2-1 to approve terms whereby developer Maine Aqua Ventus GP, LLC, will sell up to 43,099MWh of power a year from the two-turbine floating project at a price of 23 cents per kWh, plus a 2.25% annual inflation adjustment. That is enough electricity for about 6,000 homes.

PUC Chairman Thomas Welch and Commissioner David Littell conditioned their “yes” votes on the developer winning a $46.6m grant to be awarded in May by the US Department of Energy, or “finding some other ways” of securing equivalent funding, PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear tells Recharge.

DOE expects to announce as many as three awards with Maine Aqua Ventus I competing with five other demonstration wind projects.

The winners will be required to match the grant with their own money on a 1:1 basis. DOE says the funding must be used to complete remaining engineering and design work, plus to help complete construction and grid integration of the pilot projects by 2017.

In the meantime, the PUC decision allows the developer to negotiate a 20-year contract with utility Central Maine Power, whose service area will receive power from the project to be located south of Monhegan Island in the Atlantic Ocean.

The selling price for Maine Aqua Ventus I power is more than double what Maine households now pay.  Commissioner Mark Vannoy, who voted against the electricity sale terms, estimates it will translate into a subsidy at $8m to $10m a year – too expensive for ratepayers, he contends.

Project supporters argue the investment will yield big economic dividends for the state if technology that Maine Aqua Ventus I will demonstrate starting in 2017 later achieves commercial-scale applications. They also expect that scaling up the technology will reduce costs and make offshore wind power competitive in Maine where energy prices are more expensive than most US states.

Todd Gabe, a professor at the University of Maine, did a study in August on the project’s potential economic impact in Maine.  It found that Maine Aqua Ventus I would create at least 340 full- and part- time jobs during the planning and construction phases over three years, and generate a minimum $120m capital investment.

Maine Aqua Ventus GP, LLC, is a consortium comprised of Emera, an energy and services firm with headquarters in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Cianbro, a Maine-based construction services provider and Maine Prime Technologies, a spin-off company representing the University of Maine.

The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center developed the VolturnUS proprietary submersible concrete hull technology that Maine Aqua Ventus I is based upon.