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The State of Maine: A leader in floating offshore wind

Maine is poised to become a leader in both the development and deployment of floating offshore wind.

The appetite to develop offshore wind, a vital component for the energy transition, is fairly substantial, but the industry is coming up against a major challenge: the number of optimal areas for fixed-bottom wind turbines is limited due to water depths. However, much like the way the oil and gas industry overcame this issue years ago, building floating wind turbines is rapidly becoming a viable option. Currently there are only a few commercial floating wind farms in operation primarily in Europe, but there are plans for development in a number of countries globally. While this is a good start, there are some obstacles that floating offshore wind needs to overcome before it is truly established in the industry.

The primary issues are the newness of the technology and the overall costs. Additionally, the levelized cost of energy for floating wind is about four times as high as that of fixed offshore wind.

The State of Maine is poised to become a leader in both the development and deployment of floating offshore wind. Given the abundant coastline, the homogeneous bathymetry and water depth ranges and some of the highest average wind speeds in the U.S., offshore wind is an ideal resource to decarbonize its energy supply. However, thanks to the depth of the Gulf of Maine’s waters and its role in driving the state’s economy, developing offshore wind is a complex undertaking. However, the state determinedly pursuing offshore wind, and with the combination of support from the government and technology development taking place in the state, it is very likely that the next commercially operating floating wind development will be in the Gulf of Maine.

Support from the Governor’s Office of Energy

The Maine Offshore Wind Initiative was launched in 2019 by Governor Janet Mills, with the aim to thoughtfully explore the development of floating offshore wind. Last year DNV completed a series of reports that outlined a clear roadmap for this development while keeping a balance with Maine’s maritime industries, its residents, and the environment. The resulting analysis demonstrated a substantial benefit to the state: potential wage earnings of USD 2 billion, the creation of up to 33,000 jobs during the construction phase and up to 13,000 jobs during the operational phase, and potential savings by avoiding the health and social costs of carbon. In fact, the analysis showed that the electric power generated from offshore wind would be able to meet the state’s needs for decarbonized energy.

A hub for research and development

For nearly a decade the University of Maine has been pioneering the development and testing of floating offshore wind technologies. It’s concrete semisubmersible floating wind platform, VolturnUS has been tested and is ready for larger-scale deployment. The prototype has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of floating platforms for offshore wind due to the use of a concrete hull. It is easily manufactured anywhere using local materials and labor, it is cheaper than fabricated steel floaters, and it is more resistant to corrosion than steel, potentially making it a game changer in the industry. The State of Maine is also currently pursuing federal approval for a research array, featuring up to 12 turbines using this technology.

Established supply chain and infrastructure

Offshore wind development is already proceeding rapidly directly to the south of the state, with several projects in development or operational in the southern New England states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) and New York. Although there have been some bumps in the road, by the time any projects reach the construction phase in the Gulf of Maine the supply chain and specialized labor force needed for a robust industry will have been firmly established in the northeast—in fact, it is gaining maturity more rapidly than any other region in the country.

One issue that can thwart any offshore wind development is the availability of port infrastructure. However, with Maine’s already firmly stablished maritime industry, including ship building, and the location of several ports with deep water access, including Portland, Searsport, and Portsmouth (bordering Maine in New Hampshire), eliminates the need for major port infrastructure development. In fact, the State announced on Feb. 20, 2024 that it had selected two locations in Searsport—Sears Island and Mack Point—that could be used as a port-of-call for wind turbines and other materials headed to wind farms in the Gulf of Maine.

The approach the State of Maine is taking to developing offshore wind is deliberate and considered, but it also is on track to accelerate and improve the offshore wind industry, especially floating wind through early technology innovation, a clear roadmap, and having a vision to transform the state's energy landscape.

Learn more about Maine’s offshore wind development journey in our video series where we outline the challenges, opportunities, and technical aspects for floating wind in the Gulf of Maine.

3/21/2024 2:00:00 PM

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Javier Molinero

Javier Molinero

Senior Engineer

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