HALLOWELL, Maine (AP) — Maine utility regulators gave initial approval to the University of Maine and its partner companies' proposal to build two wind turbines off the coast of Maine on Tuesday, clearing a major hurdle in their effort to supply power to 7,000 homes and eventually create a larger project that could transform Maine into a hub for offshore wind development.
In a 2-1 vote, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved the terms of an agreement between the state and Maine Aqua Ventus, which will be ironed out before a final 20-year contract is reached.
The decision is vital in helping Maine Aqua Ventus win a $50 million federal energy grant in May and move the project forward, which will produce significant economic and environmental benefits for the state, said Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composite Center at UMaine.
"We appreciate that the PUC has seen the benefits of this project, long-term, not only for Maine but ... the impact it can have on the U.S. as a whole," he said.
The vote comes nearly a year after the utilities board gave the first nod to Norwegian company Statoil's plan to put four, three-megawatt wind turbines 12 miles off Maine's coast. Statoil's proposal was spiked following maneuvering by Republican Gov. Paul LePage's administration, which was concerned about the cost on ratepayers and the lack of economic benefits for the state.
UMaine's wind project is expected to generate enough power for as many as 7,000 Maine homes and at 23 cents per kilowatt hour, will cost ratepayers roughly $9 more a year on their utility bills. If successful, the 12-megawatt pilot project could be the first step toward eventually creating a larger wind farm generating up to 500 megawatts in the Gulf of Maine.
Commissioner Mark Vannoy, voting against the proposal, said he's worried about the long-term impact of the project on ratepayers. He said concerned private capital won't invest in the larger project and that developers will seek another expensive contract from the state in several years.
The decision to grant approval is "the first step down the path of ever-increasing demand on the commission for long-term contracts to support a Maine-centric energy development that will result in higher prices and a continued erosion of our manufacturing and industrial base," he said.