Maine regulators are putting a hold on an innovative offshore wind project’s proposed contract to sell electricity to Central Maine Power, the latest twist in Aqua Ventus’ attempt to test a floating turbine platform near Monhegan Island.
In 2014, the state Public Utilities Commission gave the green light for the University of Maine’s Aqua Ventus project to negotiate a long-term contract with Central Maine Power for electricity from two experimental floating turbines. Prices would rise to 35 cents a kilowatt hour by the year 2040. But as commissioners note now, electricity prices have recently come under significant downward pressure, and the contract could be worth as much as five times the market price.
Regulators say that would amount to an unwarranted subsidy.
“The intent of the statute is to develop a technology that is going to be commercially viable without subsidy,” says commission chairman Mark Vannoy.
Vannoy also argues that many of the goals of the state’s Ocean Wind Energy Act, including reduced dependence on fossil fuel energy, are being met.
“In fact the state of Maine’s renewable electricity production exceeds that required by the renewable portfolio standards,” he says.
According to the Energy Information Administration, Vannoy says nearly two-thirds of Maine’s net electricity generation comes from renewable energy resources, including hydro, biomass and wind.
“Maine’s terrestrial wind turbines generate three-fifths of all utility-scale wind power in the six New England states,” he says.
The commission decided unanimously against giving final approval to the contract, instead opening a new inquiry in how best to handle it.
“We don’t see it as a setback. We see it as an exercise of prudence on the part of the commission,” says Tony Buxton, the project’s legal counsel.
Buxton says the project remains viable. He notes that while it will need some sort of consumer subsidy, the statute would limit the cost to average residential electricity consumers to about 7.5 cents per month or less. The rest of the cost would be picked up by investors, including the U.S. Department of Energy.
Buxton says the benefits of pioneering floating turbine technology for the state’s economy could be huge. Massachusetts, he notes, is ready to award contracts for offshore wind energy worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“They’re going to need some floating technology and there’s absolutely no reason why that can’t be built in Maine. This is a patented technology and a very valuable technology, and what we seek here is a power contract that helps defray part of the cost of the project,” he says.
Buxton says Aqua Ventus will work with the commission and CMP to come up with a new plan that works for all parties.