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Maine governor announces plan for floating offshore wind research array

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Maine governor announces plan for floating offshore wind research array

When it comes to the development of the nascent floating offshore wind industry in the U.S., the state of Maine is vying to be at the forefront of that effort.

Gov. Janet Mills on Nov. 20 announced that Maine has made a plan to create what she called the country's first floating offshore wind research array, in partnership with the University of Maine and New England Aqua Ventus LLC, or NEAV, a joint venture of a Mitsubishi Corporation subsidiary and a renewable power subsidiary of RWE AG.

No more than 12 turbines will be deployed at least 20 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine "in an area that would allow a connection to the mainland electric grid in the southern half of the state," the announcement said. The project's footprint is expected to be approximately 16 square miles or less, according to the governor's office, which noted that "commercial offshore wind lease areas elsewhere along the East Coast are frequently greater than 10 times this size."

But exactly where the turbines ultimately may be sited remains up in the air. The announcement said the governor has directed her energy office "to work closely with Maine's commercial fishing industry, the Department of Marine Resources and other interested parties" to pinpoint potential locations. Dan Burgess, the director of the Maine Governor's Energy Office, did not immediately respond to an interview request.

An application for the research array will need to be filed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the announcement said.

The governor's office characterized the research array and any floating offshore wind developments not just as an opportunity to recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but also as a stepping stone for Maine's "energy future" and the state's ability to meet self-assigned climate and greenhouse gas emission goals. Currently, the state has a target of generating 80% of its energy from renewable resources by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

In March, Mills announced that the state would look at the Waldo County town of Searsport as potentially playing a key role in the deployment of offshore wind turbines. A state-conducted survey, due later in 2020, is analyzing the Searsport opportunity.

Single-turbine floating offshore wind demonstration project already in the works

While the U.S. floating offshore wind industry remains in its infancy, some small progress toward evolving the technology already is underway in the Pine Tree State.

NEAV, which the governor's office identified as co-owned by Amsterdam-based Mitsubishi subsidiary Diamond Offshore Wind Holdings BV and German RWE AG's RWE Renewables GmbH, will own and operate the floating offshore wind demonstration facility known as the Maine Aqua Ventus I Offshore Project, according to Meghan Collins, a University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center spokesperson. The project, which will host a single, up-to-12-MW wind turbine installed on a semi-submersible concrete platform roughly two miles south of Monhegan Island, Maine, will use floating hull technology developed by the University of Maine, according to an Aug. 5 University of Maine press release.

The two foreign companies, which will invest $100 million into Maine Aqua Ventus I, will handle all permitting, construction, assembly, deployment and ongoing operations at the site, while the University of Maine will take care of design work, engineering, research, development and post-construction monitoring, according to the release. Construction is expected to wrap up in 2023, which is about two years later than the project previously was anticipated to come online.

In the Aug. 5 release, the University of Maine noted that one of the demonstration project's several purposes is to "develop best practices" for working side-by-side with the traditional marine and maritime industries synonymous with the region.

Crafting those policies likely will be integral to the future of such projects, as concerns have been raised regarding the extent to which offshore wind projects in general may harm other ocean-based industries. For instance, commercial fisheries in the vicinity of the proposed 800-MW Vineyard Offshore Wind Project, which would be tethered to the seafloor off the Massachusetts coast, are expected to see certain major cumulative impacts stemming from that project and other offshore wind farms in the region, according to a U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management analysis.

In announcing the up-to-12 turbine floating research array, Mills said while she believes "Maine can lead the country in floating offshore wind technology," any such development "must be done in partnership with Maine's fishermen, to form a science-based mutual understanding of how best to design and operate floating wind turbines in the precious Gulf of Maine."

"A research area is a prudent step toward securing our state's leadership position, working collaboratively with fishermen and scientists, and developing offshore wind to realize the significant energy, economic and climate benefits it stands to offer our state," she said.