HALLOWELL, Maine — The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Thursday suggested that Statoil North America revise its proposal to provide greater assurances that Maine will reap long-term benefits from a pilot wind energy project off the coast of Maine.
Otherwise, two of the three commissioners said they would not support it.
“The commission will issue a procedural order to suggest ways the term sheet could be improved,” said Karen Geraghty, administrative director of the PUC. She said she expects the order to be released Friday or Tuesday.
After two hours of discussion Thursday, commissioners Mark Vannoy and Thomas Welch said they would not vote for the term sheet as written. They expressed concerns about the impact on ratepayers of the higher cost of electricity generated by the pilot project, which would place four floating wind turbines off the coast of Maine, and about what commitments Statoil could make to extend its relationship with Maine beyond the pilot project.
“Statoil was hoping for a unanimous conclusion from PUC today to be able to continue maturing the project,” Ola Morten Aanestad, Statoil North America’s vice president for communications, wrote in an email. “We now need to take this information we got today back, and evaluate how we can proceed further.”
As a pilot project for more extensive development of offshore wind energy production, Statoil North America proposes to moor four floating turbines in federal waters off the coast of Maine to generate 12 megawatts of energy. On May 2, 2011, Statoil North America submitted a proposal for the project, called Hywind Maine, to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which had issued a request for proposals after the Legislature passed the 2010 Ocean Energy Act.
Habib Dagher of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, which is working with Statoil and independently to refine floating offshore wind energy turbine technology, emphasized that the PUC commissioners did not question the viability of using floating turbines for offshore wind energy generation. He described Thursday’s deliberations as part of a complex negotiation process.
“The commission is looking out for the interests of the state of Maine,” Dagher said Thursday by phone. “I hope we can find a middle ground and move forward.”
“As far as the university is concerned, we would like to see Statoil come to Maine, but the University of Maine is still moving forward with plans to have a prototype turbine in the water during the first quarter of 2013. They are an excellent company,” Dagher said of Statoil. “Having them come here is like having GM or Apple come here. We all want them to come to Maine and invest in Maine.”
In comments responding to the term sheet Statoil submitted in August, Ken Fletcher, director of the Maine Energy Office, raised questions about the impact on ratepayers and the return on Maine’s investment in the project.
“The proposal sets the electricity price at a minimum of $290/MWh, which is significantly higher than historic and current prices,” Fletcher wrote. “Over the 20-year contract term, Maine ratepayers could be required to pay $203 million higher costs.”
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