Norwegian oil-and-gas giant Statoil pulled the plug on its Hywind Maine offshore wind project due to commercial uncertainty, but the University of Maine is forging ahead with plans to build a 12-MW offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Maine by 2017.

“Statoil will now focus on the Hywind concept in Scotland, a project we have matured in parallel with Hywind Maine during the last three years,” according to a Statoil statement released on Oct. 15.

Trine Ulla, head of business development for floating wind at Statoil, says, “Regardless of our exit [from] Maine, we will continue to explore the U.S. offshore wind market. The U.S. holds several locations with good wind conditions, deep waters and proximity to load centers.” Ulla says the decision was a difficult one and that Statoil appreciates “the enthusiasm and strong support” for the project at the state and federal levels.  

In January, Statoil received regulatory approval for a power-purchase agreement for its $120-million offshore wind farm despite concerns by Gov. Paul LePage (I) about the above-market [26-cents-per-kilowatt-hour] electricity rates. In June, the state PUC, at LePage's behest, reopened the request-for-proposal process it had closed in 2011, thereby forcing delay of negotiations on Statoil’s contract.

In late August, the University of Maine formed Maine Aqua Ventus I, a partnership comprising Maine Prime Technologies, a for-profit DeepC Wind spinoff; industrial contractor Cianbro, Brewer, Maine; and Emera, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based utility. The partnership filed its proposal with the Maine Public Utilities Commission by the Sept. 1 deadline, says Jeffrey Thaler, assistant university counsel at the University of Maine. The University of Maine proposal is the only one under consideration, says a PUC spokesperson.

Thaler says he is confident the PUC will approve a power-purchase term sheet for Maine Aqua Ventus I by year's end and that a contract would expeditiously follow, but he declined to disclose the power price due to Maine PUC confidentiality agreements.  Similar to Statoil’s approved term sheet, the University of Maine term sheet would include the length, default conditions and other items forming the foundation for the power-purchase agreement. The PUC’s goal is to have a publicly available and reviewable term sheet by mid-November, he says.

Meanwhile, Thaler says the offshore-wind team is continuing to pursue the next round of the Dept. of Energy competition. “While it is always unfortunate to see someone pull out, there is plenty of wind in the Gulf of Maine for multiple projects. We don’t see this as death now for offshore wind in Maine. We’re confident in the [12-MW Main Aqua Ventus I] project and for the future of developing energy in the Gulf of Maine.”

Since launching the Volturnus 1:8-scale test turbine and towing it to Castine, in early June, the floating turbine has been performing “very well in line with our engineering predictions and collecting important operational data from over 50 sensors onboard,” says Dr. Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “Our current plan is to keep it in Castine for a few more months to collect important performance data during late fall and winter storms." Two full-scale turbines are scheduled for deployment off Monhegan Island by 2017, he noted.

Annette Bossler, a Bremen, Maine-based international consultant who published the "Japan’s Floating Offshore Wind Foundations: An Overview" report in May, predicts that at least $1 billion will be invested around the world in the next few years by offshore-wind technology developers. “The LePage administration and Legislature have threatened the state’s opportunity to receive a significant part of that investment,” she says.

Bossler says the Maine example is representative of the roadblocks affecting every offshore-wind project in the U.S. “As a nation, we have to wake up,” she says. "Europe is ahead of us, and Japan is now advancing at an amazing speed with offshore-wind projects in Tokyo, Fukushima and Kyushu.”

By November, Japan is scheduled to commission a floating turbine and substation off the Fukushima coast, Bossen says. By the end of the year, she says, Japan will have taken the global lead with government support that has taken projects from budget approval to commission pilot project in just two years.

“A lot of people expected, by this fall, [that the U.S.] would have steel in water, but that hasn’t happened,” she says.