January 2014 Issue
Maine Advances US Clean Energy Economy
Ocean energy provides an exciting opportunity for the United States to help advance the goal of developing clean, renewable energy, lessening our reliance on foreign oil, and creating new industries and thousands of rewarding jobs. In Maine, tidal energy and deepwater offshore wind are just two examples of ocean energy demonstration projects where inspiring vision and effort are helping to lead the way.
Two and a half centuries ago, the first settlements in Downeast Maine were powered by the massive tides generated in the Bay of Fundy. With 100 billion tons of water flowing in and out each day with clockwork regularity, the 25-foot tides drove lumber and grain mills, and communities prospered.
Today, that mighty force of nature is again being harnessed, with benefits that could reach far beyond Maine's easternmost region. Located in Cobscook Bay at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project is the first ocean energy project in the United States to deliver power to the electric utility grid.
The nation's first commercial, grid-connected tidal energy project is the result of innovative research and development by Ocean Renewable Power Co. (Portland, Maine), with research and development assistance from Sandia National Labs, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a number of institutions of higher education throughout the U.S., including the University of Maine, and with funding in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Maine Technology Institute and private investors. This project has already injected more than $25 million into the local economy and has supported more than 100 local and supply-chain jobs.
This project is one example of the type of actions we need on a national scale to stabilize energy prices, prevent energy shortages and achieve national energy independence. Continued investment and innovation in clean energy technologies are integral to advancing these goals.
Ocean Renewable Power Co.'s first TidGen Power System began delivering electricity to the grid in September 2012. Just six months later, Maine again led the way in alternative ocean power when a prototype of the patent-pending VolturnUS floating wind turbine was deployed in Maine waters with the goal of capturing our strong and consistent deepwater offshore winds. The University of Maine's VolturnUS is the first floating turbine of its kind in the world and the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine off the coast of the United States. This initiative, called New England Aqua Ventus I, is led by the University of Maine's Dr. Habib Dagher, joined by a world-class consortium of educational institutions, including Maine Maritime Academy, and engineering, manufacturing, construction and utility firms, such as Cianbro, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (Bath, Maine), Central Maine Power and Emera, as well as world leaders like Iberdrola, the largest wind developer in the world, Ershigs Inc., the largest composite material fabricator in the U.S., and Technip (Paris, France), which manufactured the first floating wind turbine hull in the world. This is a remarkable accomplishment and confirms my belief that the most innovative and dedicated wind energy researchers in the world are working in Maine.
Our nation's leaders have seen the important work being done in Maine. At my invitation, both then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu and then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the University of Maine labs in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Following Chu's visit to Maine, the Department of Energy announced that it would dedicate funding to develop and test deepwater offshore wind technologies, the first time ever that the Department has dedicated specific funding for deepwater offshore wind.
Prior to the $4 million federal grant award that supported the VolturnUS deployment, I had helped secure a total of $25 million in federal seed funding for Maine's deepwater offshore wind research and development efforts. Harnessing the vast potential of deepwater offshore wind energy could create more than 10,000 jobs in Maine. The cooperative, cutting-edge research among academic and industry partners has made these investments possible.
Considering that the majority of the U.S. population lives in coastal states, the potential return on these investments is enormous. Our coastal states use 78 percent of the electricity in the country.
Maine's offshore wind and tidal resources are close to the 55 million people who live in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—18 percent of the total U.S. population. This power could provide an affordable source of renewable energy directly to the country's population centers on the coast and diversify our nation's electricity supply.
These projects have been compared to the early days of America's space program, and rightly so. The potential is great, and the need is urgent. The United States must not lose the global race to develop these technologies. By supporting the research and the public-private partnerships represented by the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project and Aqua Ventus I, we can build a new clean energy economy, with thriving industries and the jobs of the future.