Maine’s offshore wind industry ambitions suffered a big blow this week when Statoil said it would abandon its plans to build an offshore, floating turbine project there. The problem: A governor who kept putting up obstacles.
Statoil wanted to build a four-turbine, 12-megawatt project far off the Maine coast. The idea was to demonstrate the viability of deep-sea wind power technology and spur construction of large offshore wind parks off the Northeast U.S. coast, in the process making Maine a center for design, engineering and manufacturing in the sector.
Hywind Maine, as it was known, was among seven offshore wind projects that won $4 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy late last year.
But the Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, thought it was too pricey. In a statement, LePage didn’t sound at all disappointed to hear Statoil was giving up:
The Administration has been perfectly clear through the regulatory process that the term-sheet offered by Statoil was ironclad in its cost – placing a $200 million burden on Mainers by way of increasing electric costs. Additionally, the corporation was ambiguous in its commitment to growing Maine’s economy. Through bipartisan legislation the Governor and the Legislature worked to ensure that additional competition could be considered prior to embarking on a 20 year plan for Maine’s offshore wind industry and to finalize the best contract for Maine by the end of the year. With electric rates the 12th highest in the country we must continue to attract lower cost electricity that will grow Maine jobs.
Statoil’s plan came in answer to a 2010 Maine PUC request for proposals, set in motion by the state’s 2010 Ocean Energy Act, to build “deep-water offshore wind energy” projects “no less than 10 nautical miles” off the state’s famous coast.
Not only are the wind conditions better farther off the cost, the potential for conflicts with other ocean interests is also minimized. The thinking is that the only way to access those winds is through floating turbines — other substructures would be just too expensive to be feasible.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in August 2012 said it would begin formal assessment of Statoil North America’s lease request, but soon the whole process began to unravel at the state level. It took a couple of cracks to get it approved by the Public Utilities Commission, but the deal was never formally closed. And as Bangor Daily News reported, in June LePage got the legislature to enact a law forcing the PUC to put the contract on hold and reopen an RFP process that had closed in 2011.
It was all too much for Statoil: “Changes in the framework conditions in the state, uncertainty around the commercial framework, and the schedule implications of project delays made the project outlook too uncertain to proceed,” the company said this week.
Maine’s loss is Scotland’s gain: “Statoil will now focus on the Hywind concept in Scotland, a project we have matured in parallel with Hywind Maine during the last three years,” the company added.
Paul Williamson of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative told the Daily News the move was a “huge” disappointment. “Having Statoil in the state of Maine was like attracting a Google or an Apple to the state,” he said.
Backers still have some hope, with the University of Maine’s floating turbine project – which also won DOE backing – having formed a consortium and stepped into the reopened RFP process to try to land a deal with the state.