AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine energy industry officials and lawmakers applauded on Wednesday the potential environmental and economic benefits of a 12-megawatt offshore wind project that could be built off the state's coast, but a lot remains to be settled before construction of the two-turbine project is ensured.
In documents released Wednesday, officials estimated that the project proposed by the University of Maine and a host of partner companies could bring at least 340 full and part-time jobs during the three years of planning and construction and create $120 million in investments, half of which would be paid to Maine-based entities. But at 23 cents per kilowatt hour — significantly higher than current market rates — it will cost utility customers nearly $9 more a year on their bills.
Renewable energy advocates and lawmakers, who've long believed Maine's wind resources and location can make it an international leader in offshore wind development and technology, said the significant environmental and economic impacts of the wind project are clear.
"There are very few places where we can compete and actually be a world leader from the start," said Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland.
He said that created an opportunity, and it's up to the public, the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Energy to take advantage of it.
"I hope that we seize it," he added.
State regulators are expected to decide within the next month whether to approve the proposed terms of the project and begin negotiating a contract with the Maine Aqua Ventus, the umbrella company of the university and its partners. UMaine officials and Gov. Paul LePage's office have said that agreement will help it win a $50 million energy grant in the spring, a critical funding piece for the project.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said in a statement Wednesday that the Maine Aqua Ventus project is a chance to "repair the damage our state's reputation has suffered on offshore and renewable energy development."
Environmental groups criticized the Republican governor administration's handling of Norwegian company Statoil, which reached a tentative agreement with the state in January to put four wind turbines 12 miles off the coast of Maine. Maneuvering by the administration to reopen the bidding process to allow the university to submit a bid prompted Statoil to remove its project for consideration in October.