Maine offshore wind project is put on hold

David Sharp, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Norwegian energy company Statoil is delaying an offshore wind power project off Boothbay Harbor, and may scuttle it altogether, because of legislation supported by Gov. Paul LePage that reopens competition, the company said Wednesday.

Statoil told the Maine Public Utilities Commission in a letter that it respects the legislative process but that the law reopening competition has created an air of uncertainty. The company also said it has potential sites in other states, in the event it has to abandon the $120 million pilot project in Maine.

"Given the uncertainty created by the recent law change, Statoil is now preparing to put the Hywind Maine Project on hold, while we assess the changes made to the law, the total risk picture and our progress plan going forward," said Ola Morten Aanestad, a spokesman for Statoil North America.

Statoil and the Public Utilities Commission agreed to a term sheet in January for the project that would put four wind turbines 12 miles off the coast on floating structures tethered to the seabed.

But lawmakers approved legislation that contained an amendment backed by Gov. Paul LePage to reopen the competition, allowing the University of Maine to submit a proposal by Sept. 1.

The idea was to create an open competition that included the university, a pioneer in offshore wind technology, said Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman.

"Our flagship university should have that ability to compete for a project that's going to benefit the state of Maine and beyond," she said. "That's really where he's coming from on that."

But Democrats questioned LePage's motives, given his opposition to wind power. They contend Statoil is the offshore wind leader and that Maine stands to benefit from the project.

"This amendment that was put forth by the governor and the Republicans was a poison pill that they knew would jeopardize the project. It's the wrong business signal to send," Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said Wednesday evening. "We're in a race to create a new industry. This jeopardizes that."

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 Boothbay Harbor.

The University of Maine, meanwhile, has a wind turbine in the water off Maine, a 65-foot-tall prototype that's one-eighth the size of a full-scale turbine. The school's Advanced Structures and Composites Center hopes to launch off a full-scale version in waters off Monhegan Island in 2016.

In January, Statoil won state regulatory approval of a power purchase agreement with utilities that Republicans criticized because ratepayers would subsidize the higher cost of energy.

"At $200 million, Maine should be receiving a significant return on our investment. The Statoil term sheet does nothing specific to grow the Maine economy over the long term and this announcement raises further questions about how committed this company was to our state for the long term," said Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor's energy office.


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