AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Norwegian energy giant Statoil gained key approval Thursday in its bid to build one of the nation's first offshore wind power projects off Maine's Boothbay Harbor.
The $120 million project would put four, three-megawatt wind turbines 12 miles off the coast on floating spar-buoy structures tethered to the seabed in 460 feet of water.
A 2-1 vote by the Public Utilities Commission approved an important contract between Statoil North America and utility companies. The PUC vote was the biggest hurdle the Hywind Maine project faced as it moves forward with the goal of having power flowing by 2016.
The U.S. currently has no offshore wind farms. Other projects are also in development off Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware.
The approval comes with some conditions but Statoil said it considers the PUC vote an important milestone.
The critical issues before the commission were the cost of that power and the project's economic benefits for Maine. Concerns over those issues prompted Gov. Paul LePage to oppose the PUC's approval.
In a filing with the commission, state Energy Director Patrick Woodcock said Maine ratepayers would have to absorb above-market electricity rates totaling $203 million over 20 years to subsidize the project.
"First and foremost, this administration seeks to reduce high electricity costs to Maine families. Our energy costs are among the highest in the nation and if this project adds to that burden I have questions as to how economically viable it is for the State of Maine," Woodcock said.
Woodcock also asserted that Statoil did not prove significant investments would occur for Maine-based manufacturing facilities directly related to the project.
But commissioners said they were satisfied that costs were sufficiently offset by benefits, and noted the project brings a potential boost to Maine businesses.