Prototype offshore wind turbine launched in Maine

May 31, 2013 • Business

Habib Dagher, [auth] the Universty of Maine professor who heads the school’s Offshore Wind Laboratory, watches preparations for the launching of North America’s first floating wind turbine, Friday, May 31, 2013, in Brewer, Maine. The 9,000-pound prototype was lowered into the Penobscot River on its way to an offshore site. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

BREWER, Maine (AP) — North America’s first floating windmill that will produce power was ceremonially lowered Friday into the Penobscot River, the first big step in a process that could tap an offshore wind resource with a potential of 75 Hoover Dams.

The 65-foot-tall turbine is a prototype that’s one-eighth the size of a full-scale wind turbine the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center hopes to launch off Monhegan Island in 2016. The prototype floating turbine, called the VolturnUS, was built by the Cianbro construction company at its riverside site, near Bangor.

The prototype will be towed roughly 30 miles from Brewer down the Penobscot River to Castine during the next several days. Once it’s moored, it will be hooked up to the grid and start generating electricity, making it the first on the continent to do so. It also is called the first in the world with a composite and concrete design to make it weather resistant and stable in rough seas.

“It’s going to survive the perfect storm,” said Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at UMaine.

The prototype will be placed in water with about one-eighth the wave action of the Gulf of Maine, where the full-scale floating windmills would be placed if the prototype is successful.

By 2030, developers envision turbines in place to produce 5 gigawatts of offshore wind power, enough to power more than a million homes at any moment. They say the plan that could attract billions of dollars in investments and create thousands of jobs.

It also would plug into an immense offshore wind resource, which Dagher said is equivalent to 75 Hoover Dams, or 150 nuclear power plants.

“We are energy-rich,” Dagher said. “We just haven’t taken advantage of this wind richness.”

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, a former Maine governor, told the roughly 600 dignitaries, students, construction workers and other guests attending Friday’s ceremony that offshore wind will reduce carbon emissions and fill the country’s immense energy appetite with clean, renewable power. That new power, he said, is key to economic growth.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who helped secure federal energy funding for the offshore wind project, said the project has been compared to the early days of the U.S. space program. Collins called the latest development “a marvel of engineering and science” and “a giant step forward.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, also was among the speakers at Friday’s ceremony, the culmination of five years of research and development by the DeepCwind Consortium, a UMaine-led private-public partnership that includes more than 30 businesses.

Also looking at offshore wind development in Maine is the Norwegian energy company Statoil, which in January won state regulatory approval of a power purchase agreement with utilities. Statoil has had a floating wind power turbine in the North Sea since 2009 and uses data from it in designing windmills it would like to place off Maine. The UMaine consortium’s VolturnUS prototype is outfitted with devices to record motion and wave heights.

Keeping the cost of offshore wind power as low as possible and continuing to draw government grants are crucial to making offshore wind production successful. Dagher said his goal is to get offshore wind prices lower than what they are in Europe.

Dagher said one advantage of the UMaine consortium’s units is that they can be built onshore and towed to sea, eliminating the more expensive cost of construction at sea.

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