The developers of a wind-energy turbine off Monhegan Island are apologizing to Boothbay residents angered by unannounced work in town last month, some of it on private property.
And the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is taking heat from locals as well, for signing a deal to allow cable from the turbine to come ashore on its waterfront property there.
The New England Aquaventus project aims to use deep waters off Monhegan to test an 11-megawatt wind turbine based on new floating-platform technology developed at the University of Maine. It’s a partnership between the university, the Mitsubishi Corporation and RWE Renewables, a German energy giant.
“We are here because we screwed up. I’m not happy with my team, for having done that,” said project leader Chris Wisseman at a meeting in Boothbay on Thursday night.
“What we said last night and I’ll say it again tonight is: Never again will we do that without telling people it’s going to happen.”
Wisseman said that to gauge soil suitability for an underground cable to run from the shore to a local substation, the company deployed surveyors last month to drill dozens of test-borings – some of them inadvertently on private property.
After publicly apologizing, he said that following discussions around the event the company had already decided to avoid one particular area. And he emphasized that project planning is still in very early stages, promising more public consultation as specific routes become clearer.
Many local residents, including Andrew Morley, were not placated.
“Having this meeting after the fact sounds hollow to me because it’s obvious you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar. And now you want to… pretend like you have our best interest at heart but you don’t,” Morley says.
Some Residents also said they felt betrayed by the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, which has agreed to let the cable come ashore at its waterfront property, and will earn $200,000 over the easement’s 20-year span.
Eben Wilson, a local lobsterman, says a decades-long history of good relations between the community and the lab is at risk.
“I do think that Bigelow failed miserably at communicating,” he says.
Wilson also sits on a wind energy task force put together by Gov. Janet Mills. But he does oppose this project.
He also says he understands why a scientific institution dedicated to understanding and improving ocean health would support the development of technologies that could help slow global warming.
“They’re seeing the effects of climate change in real time and they are studying that. And that’s very honorable and understandable. The problem is that they made this decision and they never communicated with the community that they reside in. And until very recently they hadn’t thought this would be any form of an issue,” he said.
“One of the things that really concerned us is that we were going to face the wrath of the fishing community. We didn’t see any way around that. So how early do you open yourself up to what has been a national controversy?” says Deborah Bronk, Bigelow’s president.
She says the lab owes an apology for poor communications with residents upset about the possibility of cable being laid near their homes.
But she adds that once completed, the visual impact will be small, because most of the system will be buried. And, she says, given the accelerating urgency of finding ways to slow climate change, she stands by the decision to support the wind project.
“Am I going to apologize for signing the easement itself and saying we want to help this project move forward? No. I think we were right in doing that. Because we need this. Humanity needs this,” she says.
“If you care anything abut a future that we’re leaving our kids, we ought to be pulling out the stops. And this could be just incredibly powerful technology.”
Aquaventus aims to have what would be the nation’s first floating-platform wind turbine up and running in 2023.
A larger, 12-turbine “research array” of wind farms Mills is proposing to site in waters farther south could follow a few years after that. New England Aquaventus would also develop that project.
Both projects are to be paid for by Maine consumers’ electricity bills.
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