The long and winding path of the University of Maine’s planned floating wind power demonstration project off Monhegan Island, known as Maine Aqua Ventus, took another turn this year when Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation, and RWE Renewables announced they would be partners with the University on the project. The two companies have formed a joint venture corporation called New England Aqua Ventus LLC, which will acquire, develop and eventually operate the floating wind project, according to a press release. The cost for the demonstration project is estimated to be $100 million.
The University of Maine, whose Advanced Structures and Composites Center has been the driver of the project since its inception, designed a floating wind turbine, called VolturnUS, and tested it as a 1:8 model in Castine in 2013 with plans to deploy a full-scale floating turbine off Monhegan. Under the new agreement, the University will own the intellectual property behind the Center’s floating hull concept and will license the technology to New England Aqua Ventus. The Advanced Structures and Composites Center will continue working on design and engineering, research and development and post-construction monitoring. New England Aqua Ventus hopes to finalize design work in 2021 and begin construction in 2023.
“It’s a big endeavor,” says Chris Wisseman, CEO of Diamond Offshore Wind, in a Maine Public interview earlier this summer. “It will take a couple years really, to get this off the ground right. To prove that we can build it with Mainers, deploy it safely and really use it as a laboratory for everybody to learn from.” New England Aqua Ventus hired Genevieve McDonald, a Stonington lobsterman and member of the Maine Legislature, to be its liaison with fishing communities.
Currently the New England Aqua Ventus design is for a single 10- to 12-megawatt turbine. The largest floating offshore wind turbines operating today are 6-megawatt turbines, part of Equinor’s (formerly Statoil) Hywind Scotland site. The Aqua Ventus single turbine will float on hulls made of concrete, which will be created in small sections and then assembled on site. The hulls will float semi-submerged and be held in position by three mooring lines anchored to the seabed; a subsea cable will convey electricity from the turbine to the Maine power grid. The estimated $100 million price tag is due to the lack of economies of scale for a one-turbine project and the fact that building and deploying a floating wind project has never been done before in this country.
The goals of the project, located south of Monhegan Island, are to demonstrate that the floating turbine can operate successfully at full size, to work with local contractors and manufacturers to generate local economic benefit, and to provide renewable energy for the state. “So we come in as developer, we are essentially restarting development, selecting the final turbines, we are working on all the engineering details, and so the collaboration with the University is to finish that development, and now get it ready for construction,” Wisseman said.
New England Aqua Ventus is not the only entity in the race to deploy larger floating wind turbines. Hywind Scotland Equinor has been generating 30-megawatts of power since 2017 through deployment of 6-megawatt floating turbines. The company is now developing an 88-megawatt Hywind Tampen project to power two offshore drilling operations in the North Sea.
In September, the oil company BP and Equinor announced their own joint partnership related to U.S. offshore wind development. BP paid $1.1 billion for a 50% stake in Equinor’s Empire Wind project off New York and its planned Beacon Wind project off southern New England.
The Empire Wind project, located in the New York Bight south of Long Island, has an 816-megawatt contract with New York state; the wind farm is scheduled for completion in 2024. The Beacon Wind project, located south of Massachusetts, is still in the development and permitting phase. Equinor and BP “will consider future joint opportunities in the U.S. for both bottom-fixed and floating offshore wind,” according to an Equinor statement.
The New Players
- Diamond Offshore Wind is a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation, and German-based RWE Renewables.
- Mitsubishi Corporation has been involved in wind turbine construction and installation since the 1980s, supplying nearly 4.4 gigawatts of wind power generators throughout the world.
- Mitsubishi recently joined with Vestas Wind Systems A/S, a Danish manufacturer of wind power turbines, to establish MHI Vestas Offshore Wind A/S, a joint-venture company specializing in offshore wind power systems.
- RWE Renewables is a global company involved in producing electricity from renewable sources, specifically photovoltaics and land- and sea-based wind farms. The company’s website reports that its RWE Renewables Americas division ranks among the top 10 land-based wind companies in the U.S., operating 24 wind farms across the country.