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UMaine Wins Major Federal Grant for Offshore Wind Development
12/12/2012   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced what may be the largest research award ever granted in the Maine: If approved by Congress, the grant will send up to $47 million dollars to the University of Maine for development of offshore wind energy. The University was one of just seven organizations awarded grants out of a field of 70. As Jennifer Mitchell reports, the University's composites facility, which has been on the cutting edge of renewable energy technology, has big plans for the money, and is hoping that its project will change the face of wind energy in America.

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UMaine Wins Major Federal Grant for Offshore Wind Listen
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Habib Dagher

Most deep water offshore turbines around the world are bottom mounted: The big structures are sunk into the sea-bottom like fence posts. But the University of Maine's new wind project is going to be a bit different.

"Floating technologies allow us to drop the cost of overshore wind significantly," says Dr. Habib Dagher (left), who heads the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University, says that some lessons can be learned from across the pond, where offshore wind has been done for two decades now.

"Europe has been building offshore wind since 1991," he says. "But their costs are too high because they're using fixed-based turbines. And they're assembling these units offshore. It's almsot like Bath Irons Works trying to build a ship 20 miles offshore. That costs too much money. What we wanted to do was build the ship like we do, onshore, and then tow it out to sea. And that's what we're doing."

The floating design is not unlike the much bigger structures that float oil and gas platforms. The University has been working with the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation over the last four years to develop miniature platforms suitable to support the big wind turbines. Now, they're ready to go ahead with the proof of concept phase, and if all goes well, launch the real deal in 2015.

The project, known as Aqua Ventus I , will cost more than $93 million, including research and development. Forty-seven million would be covered by DOE appropriations. The other portion of the project will be covered by a new consortium developed for the floating project, which includes in-state partners, such as development company Cianbro, and Bath Iron Works, as well as international partners such as CMP's parent company, Iberdrola.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is applauding the grant, and says the project could mean some 20,000 jobs in manufacturing, as well as in research and development.

"In addition, it positions Maine to become not only the national leader in the development of deep-water offshore wind energy, but a global leader, and that's a very exciting opportunity," Collins says.

Phase One is to complete a smaller-scale demonstration model, comprised of materials manufactured at the University Composites Center. Then, consortium partner Cianbro will put the unit together in Brewer, where it will then make its journey down the Penobscot River to about 10 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine near Monhegan Island where it will be observed and monitored in preparation for the bigger project to follow in 2015.

If the demonstration project goes according to plan, Phase 2 will see the creation and launch of two, 6-megawatt turbines, each over 300-feet high, capable of generating enough energy for about 20,000 households. According to Dr. Dagher, that's just a drop in the bucket: He says there's energy equivalent to that generated by 156 nuclear power plants blowing just off shore.



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