Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ocean energy institute takes different tack

Maine News

By Amy Lea
(Created: Sunday, May 18, 2008 3:23 AM EDT)


The Ocean Energy Institute that had been expected a year ago to move into the Rockland Harbor Park LLC to study alternative energy sources from the ocean is taking a different and greatly expanded course.


The expansion requires a larger location. The project’s organizers are looking at locations such as Bath Iron Works and the decommissioned Brunswick Naval Air Station. In the end, the plan is to erect a series of wind turbines offshore and use that energy to power Maine homes and businesses.

Rockland Harbor Park LLC purchased the former MBNA waterfront complex in Rockland in March 2007. At that time, one of the uses cited was an ocean energy research institute. Retail and offices were also planned for the Water Street complex.

Harbor Park LLC consists of Mathew and Ellen Simmons, who are seasonal residents of Rockport; Marianne and Stuart Smith of Camden; Jay Kislak who is a seasonal resident of Rockport; and Tom and Linda Meyer, who are seasonal residents of Lincolnville.

Matthew Simmons is the founder and operator of the energy firm Simmons & Company International. The company provides investment banking for energy products.

In an initial e-mail last March Simmons stated, “I am very intent on pressing ahead on creating what I am calling an Ocean Energy Institute. Initially it will not take much of the building space. Ideally over time, this center will be the “silicon valley” headquarters for Ocean Energy expertise and spun many growing business activities for what might become the only real way to begin weaning ourselves from what will soon become clear peaking of global oil and gas.”

The growth of that plan has resulted in the project looking for larger space.

The Rockland Harbor Park LLC complex, however, is expected to be occupied by a Boston financial company that plans to employ at least 300 people. Details are still being worked out before the identity of the company is announced. The complex will also be occupied by Amalfi’s restaurant and a new restaurant in the boathouse at the end of the pier.

According to George Hart, the chief technical officer of the Ocean Energy Institute, initially they were thinking of a much smaller energy project.

“After doing some research of the real situation in Maine, it became clear we needed a solution quickly to what will be a huge problem for the state in the relatively near future,” he said.

“The point is not only to address he Maine energy problem but to try to create thousands of jobs (up to 10,000 or more) in what will be a new Maine renewable industry,” Hart said.

This shift will also require hundreds of installation and maintenance jobs on the water.

“We are trying to put together a business plan for the state, looking to all that would be involved, such as job creation, connecting to the grid and the environmental aspects of all this,” he said.

He said the idea for wind turbine energy on the gulf of Maine is so attractive is because the wind on the coast is twice as strong in the winter than in the summer months.

“You could extract 8 times the electrical power in the fall and winter months,” he said.

Hart said each farm would be about six miles square and can have 100 to 200 towers on the out of sight of land. The diameter of the blades would be about 400-feet across. The towers would also be placed with input from fishermen, so that they would be located in places that would be least likely to have an impact on their livelihood.

“A lot of the rest of the country is paying attention to what is going on here because of the seriousness of the need Maine is facing. This is a powerful resource. Maine will probably lead the rest of the country in using this sustainable energy resource.”

Hart said the primary focus in the last few months has been intense collaboration with politicians, business owners and educational institutions.

He lot of activity has been centered in the University of Maine campus.

The company is working with the University of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy and the Passamaquoddy Indians in the narrows and the Western Passage to determine whether the large-scale offshore wind farms are practical.

Hart and University of Maine Professor of Civil/ Structural Engineering Habib Dagher also spent time at the European Wind Energy Conference last month and are working closely with offshore wind turbine developers with companies named Blue H and SWAY. Both companies have floating wind turbines in development.

Dagher said the conference discussed many of the changes Europe is making in regards to energy and he learned that Europe is moving in the direction of offshore wind. He said wind will be the source of about 20 percent of electrical energy in Europe by 2020.

“Plans are taking shape very strongly all over the world and Maine can be positioned to do the same thing,” Dagher said. “I am very excited to be involved and to make this a reality.”

Dagher is in charge of the composites lab at the Orono campus and is working with Hart to develop lightweight corrosion resistant structural composites for the wind turbines. Dagher has also been in contact with companies in the state who could potentially manufacture the composites.

Dagher said providing power through wind could be a positive shift for the state, turning a problem of high gas prices and electricity into an opportunity. He said if the Maine manufactured and produced the wind turbines, there could be the potential for as many as 25,000 to 50,000 jobs in state.

“We are looking at an investment of $17 billion dollars,” he said. “The opportunities are very exciting for the state. We have a wonderful resource off the coast of Maine. As many countries might have oil, we have wind and until now, we have not taken advantage of this resource.”

Hart is also collaborating with the Canadian government, Cianbro Chief Executive Officer Peter Vigue, Hallowell International owner Ed Paslawski, former Maine Gov. Angus King, Maine Director of the Office of Energy Independence and Security John Kerry, the Maine Marine Research Coalition, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

He has also been working with University of Maine Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Peterson.

Hart said Maine is poised to lead the country in the use of wind power as a sustainable energy resource.

“A lot of the rest of the country is paying attention to what is going on in Maine because of the seriousness of the need Maine is facing. This is a powerful resource,” Hart said.

Hart said the company ran into some obstacles about a year ago while looking at tidal currents and extracting ocean wave energy. When they took a closer look at the plans, he said a couple of things jumped out.

One was that Maine faces an energy crisis over the next 12 years since 80 percent of people in the state heat with oil.

He said even with somewhat optimistic views of the price of oil, he estimates that the price will go over $10 per gallon over the next 12 years.

“If you are using about 1,000 gallons a winter, that would be $10,000 a year just for heat,” he said. “These were numbers I put together in mid-February and presented to former governor Angus King.”

King gave a lecture at Bowdoin College on April 15, called the Saudi Arabia of Wind, Confronting Maine’s Energy Catastrophe.

According to Hart, the average family spent 4 percent of its income on energy in 1998. Now, he said, Maine families are spending about 20 percent of their budget on energy and in 12 years the average family will be spending 50 percent on energy and 20 percent on healthcare, leaving only 30 percent for everything else.

He said in order to create the amount of energy needed the Ocean Energy Institute decided to put the focus on what Maine has an abundance of, which is deep water offshore wind.

Hart said analysis done by National Renewable Energy Labs has indicated potentially 200 gigawatts of offshore energy in the gulf of Maine. This is the equivalent of 200 coal power plants, he said.

Hart said, it is clear that many people on land do not like these wind farms anywhere near them, so the wind turbines used to generate power would be placed about six miles offshore and would not be visible from land. Hart said the challenge would be to make sure to place them in a location that would not interfere with fishing and boating.

In order to place the wind turbines, the company would use technology developed in deep water oil drilling and place the turbines on platforms.

With help from a Company in Bangor called Hallowell International owned by Ed Paslawski, they have developed a cold climate heat pump, which is designed to take heat from the air in winter and use it for home heating. Through heat pump technology and, heat could also be sucked out of the earth.

Hart said a glorified air conditioner would be used to move heat from the outside-in, instead of from inside-out.

He said the models that have already been developed, such as the Acadia, plug into electrical outlets. The Acadia was developed by Hallowell International in Bangor.

The electric power from the offshore could be put into electric baseboard heating, producing a certain amount of heat per kilowatt hour. With the heat pump, residents would get four times amount of heat.

He said the only problem at this point is that the cost of this heat pump is about $10,000. He said, however, with rising oil prices, the pump would pay for itself in about 3 to 4 years and offshore wind electric prices would be stable and wouldn’t keep rising the way oil will.

He said this technology is currently being used in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

“The idea here in broad terms is to get something of a predictable fixed energy price so Maine doesn’t get killed by energy prices going up,” Hart said.

The benefits of wind turbine energy is that it will leave no carbon footprint, it would create thousands of jobs and keep money in the state of Maine, Hart said.

“For each dollar gas and oil that jumps, the state looses $1.2 billion that Maine will never see again, that goes over to the middle east, Hart said. “We want to try to do this in a way that people living in Maine don’t feel their experience in Maine is ruined by this.”

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