AUGUSTA — The Mills administration and advocates for developing offshore wind power in Maine urged lawmakers Thursday to revive a floating turbine project that has been stalled with utility regulators for more than a year.
The bill would direct the Public Utilities Commission to approve a long-term contract between the University of Maine-led Aqua Ventus program and Central Maine Power. A PUC decision last June to reopen a previously negotiated contract was viewed by project supporters as yet another setback during the administration of Gov. Paul LePage for Maine to develop an energy sector with enormous economic and environmental potential.
“We were leading on this issue about 10 years ago,” said Hannah Pingree, a former House speaker who directs Gov. Janet Mills’ Office of Policy Management. “Obviously, we had an interim period where the state stopped that motion forward, so we are excited to work with this committee in moving forward.”
States in southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic are moving aggressively to build offshore wind farms in the shallower waters along their coastlines. But the strongest, most sustained winds occur farther offshore in deeper waters, with the Gulf of Maine offering some of the best conditions for offshore wind power.
Engineers at UMaine and its Aqua Ventus partners hope to place two turbines – built on floating platforms anchored to the bedrock – off Monhegan Island. The pilot project is viewed as a major test for floating turbine technology that supporters say could be built in Maine and exported around the globe.
The project received authorization for $87 million in federal funding. But last June, the PUC voted to reopen the long-term power contract amid questions about whether the project met the requirements of a 2009 law and projections that it would raise electric rates for customers.
On Thursday, project supporters asked lawmakers to support the bill, L.D. 994, directing the PUC to approve the long-term contract for the Aqua Ventus project.
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