Survey For Underwater Cable Route Planned For Fall

Maine Aqua Ventus’ 1/8th scale floating wind turbine operated
successfully off Castine for more than a year. MAV photo.

This fall fishermen in the midcoast area likely will see a large vessel plying the waters between Monhegan Island and Port Clyde. The ship will be conducting underwater surveys to determine the appropriate route for an electricity cable from the University of Maine’s two proposed wind turbines off the island to the mainland. The survey will be the next step in a long multi-year process to design and construct the Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV) floating wind turbines in a state-designated area three miles southwest of Monhegan.
The project began in 2009 when the State of Maine designated seven areas within state waters as sites for wind power demonstration projects. The University of Maine and partners Cianbro Corp. and Emera Power of Nova Scotia created DeepC Wind, a public-private entity, to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind turbine, known as Maine Aqua Ventus. The distinction is crucial: most offshore wind turbines are built on the seafloor. The University of Maine proposed to create turbines that would be anchored to the ocean bottom but would float in the water column.
“Initially the University planned to put a 1/3-scale turbine to test temporarily at the Monhegan site,” explained Nathan Johnson, director of business development at Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) Solutions in Portland (ORPC conducts communications activities related to Maine Aqua Ventus). “The initial proposal to the Department of Energy ended up changing to a 1/8 scale model situated off Castine.”
Called VolturnUS, the 65-foot-tall floating turbine operated in 90 feet of water off Castine for 18 months. It was designed and built at the University, then assembled by Cianbro Corp. in Brewer and towed down the Penobscot River into position. In June 2013, the turbine successfully began delivering electricity via underwater cable. At that time the University also won a Department of Energy grant to begin commercial-scale testing.
“The Castine testing showed that the technology would perform as anticipated and that it held promise for success at full scale,” Johnson said. VolturnUS was made of advanced composite materials built on a floating hull of concrete, which has a longer lifespan in the ocean than steel.
Maine Aqua Ventus then proposed to design and build two full-scale 6-megawatt turbines in the Monhegan test area. The project suffered a setback in 2014, when it was named as an alternate demonstration project vying for $47 million in Department of Energy development funds. However, that changed when one of the winning projects failed to meet certain milestones; in 2016 the DOE moved Maine Aqua Ventus from alternate to one of the three final contenders. In part that shift came because of the successful Castine test and the fact Maine Aqua Ventus had already been issued a term sheet by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to sell power from the full-scale project for 20 years.
The DOE will decide on awarding up to $40 million in federal funds among the two applicants in 2018. Currently the Maine project is undergoing review through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process. The draft Environmental Assessment document will be available for public comment in 2018.
“MAV first proposed locating the electricity cable on the Bristol peninsula but due to multiple factors, including the identification of historic shrimping areas, alternatives were considered,” Johnson said. “Now the cable is proposed to run into Port Clyde via an existing charted cable way. The intent is to minimize new regulated areas that would impact mobile gear fishermen.”
The project as now envisioned will create two 576-foot-tall turbines. A group of Monhegan residents organized Protect Monhegan in 2016 to voice their opposition to the larger-scale, 20-year project. The group wrote a bill (LD 1262)introduced to the state Legislature this spring, to ensure that the project was not located within ten nautical miles of the Monhegan Lobster Conservation Zone, itself 30 square miles in extent. In 2009, when the state was first identifying possible sites for wind power testing, Mohegan lobstermen were asked where they fished the least in the Conservation Zone. They identified a section in the zone’s southwest corner, near the state’s three-mile boundary, as least fished; that turned into the Monhegan test site.
The bill was opposed by the Monhegan Fishermen’s Alliance, which represents the entire active fleet of lobstermen on Monhegan. The group testified, “the MAV project will undoubtedly have a direct impact on the fleet. It is estimated that the wind turbines and the associated mooring system will impact 10% of the historical fishing area for up to 20 years, though it is still unclear what fishing restrictions will be required.” They continued, “The University of Maine staff has been actively communicating with the fishing fleet about the project and we have been discussing ways to accommodate our fishing tradition in this area and support the Monhegan fishing community.”
The Protect Monhegan bill did not pass in the Legislature. The University of Maine has since stated that it will not allow use of its technology in any grid-scale offshore wind project within 10 miles of any inhabited location.
“We’ve been working really hard to get everyone on Monhegan on the same page and understanding the project in full detail,” Johnson said. “There is mistrust because this project has evolved over a number of years. It’s nothing nefarious but it has created some concerns.” MAV holds weekly conference calls with island representatives to keep them abreast of the project, and has conducted on-island and coastal presentations. Project organizers will continue to discuss measures to maximize benefits for both island residents and the state.