Fishermen, community members and local politicians turned out for a meeting at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde last week sponsored by the University of Maine-led DeepCwind Consortium, which consists of over 30 members, including academic institutions, industry leaders, utility companies and non-profit organizations. The Department of Energy awarded the University of Maine $7.1 million to fund the DeepCwind Consortium National Research Program.

Presenters at the meeting included Bob Lindyberg, from the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, which is leading the efforts to develop the technology and infrastructure for the deepwater offshore wind project, and Paul Anderson, director of Maine Sea Grant Program, which works with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension on issues of concern to Maine's coastal communities.

Lindyberg discussed the Offshore Wind Test Site south of Monhegan Island and the newly released 567-page Maine Offshore Wind Report, funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which details everything from economics and policy, electrical grid integration, wind and wave, bathymetric, soil, and environmental research to summaries of assembly and construction sites - all the information needed for future project development and permitting.

According to Lindyberg, about $5 billion leaves Maine each year for all its gas and oil needs. Deep offshore wind could produce energy for 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt within 10 years, said Lindyberg, if the state can harness the powerful winds located in waters beyond the reach of traditional fixed-foundation turbines, but "the downside is it's in deep water." There's not much technology on turbines in water deeper than 20 to 30 meters - Norway has the sole deepwater turbine, which has been running for one and a half years and was $70 million in development.

On the drawing board for the Gulf of Maine is an eventual wind installation of 500 to 1,000 five-megawatt floating turbines, but the first phase of the project is the testing of a platform at an intermediate (approximately one-third) scale to carry a 100-kilowatt turbine.

That first intermediate-scale platform is expected to be fabricated and deployed at the UMaine Deepwater Wind Test Site south of Monhegan Island in July 2012 for approximately three to four months. Performance data gathered during that deployment will be used to refine the design for potential full-scale development. The next phase of the project would be the building of five full-scale turbines, and DeepCwind is currently deciding whether or not to build those full-scale platforms or let a developer build them.

The mention of commercial development brought the first questions from fishermen. Gerry Cushman, on the board of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, pointed out that the power produced by commercially developed wind turbines "doesn't necessarily stay here." But, Lindyberg said, many jobs centered around the turbines will stay here in the state, and Bath Iron Works and Cianbro Corporation, who are fabricating the test platform, are intent on keeping the fabrication of future towers in Maine.

Senator Chris Rector mentioned that Cianbro's Eastern Manufacturing modular fabrication yard in Brewer already delivered components for new oil refineries cheaper and quicker than other countries around the globe that competed for the contract.

"It's not just generating electricity, but 15,000 jobs," said Lindyberg.

There are three platform designs that are being considered - one with a vertical underwater tube, or spar buoy, that will be filled with water as ballast and tethered to the ocean floor. Another is a platform used by the petroleum industry for floating oil rigs, with a buoyant platform tethered by taut cables. The third is a semi-submersible, three-hulled tension leg platform, also tethered to the ocean floor. The Norwegian turbine platform uses the spar buoy, which is suited to their deep-draft fjords, but the Monhegan test will use the tension leg design, which is light and easy to fabricate, to be built at Bath Iron Works and then moved to the site. There, it will be the subject of studies of the acoustics above and below the water, studies that were not done before the Norwegian installation, and the results will be shared with the Norwegians and other European nations.

Gary Libby, Port Clyde lobster and groundfisherman and member of the Midcoast Fishermen's Association, noting that the Monhegan testing would be done in summer, asked, "What about winter?" Lindyberg said that in about three weeks, students from UMaine and from Maine Maritime Academy will be testing 1/50th scale models in a tank in the Netherlands. While the full-scale turbines would be about 300 feet high, from the surface of the ocean, and the Monhegan test models about 100 feet high, the tank models will be about six feet tall. The group had looked at wave basins around the country, but none could program in the conditions needed to simulate the Gulf of Maine. UMaine is now building a research facility that will incorporate the design, but the Netherlands facility will be used in the meantime. There, the turbines will be subjected to average wind and wave conditions, and to extreme ones, as well.

In answer to other questions about winter conditions, Lindyberg said they would also test for ice buildup on the turbine blades in the lab, testing different blade coatings.

The one-by-two-mile test site about two miles south of Monhegan will have a 350-meter-radius fishing exclusion zone around the platform. Fisherman Randy Cushman said the platform needs to have its anchors marked so fishermen will see it at night and on radar, as well as navigation buoys marking the zone while the platform is up.

For the eventual siting of a deepwater wind farm, Libby said the fishing community is already talking about asking that it be located in areas of the Gulf of Maine that are closed to fishing anyway, which could make the closed areas a refuge for the rebuilding of fish stocks.

In September the Maine Public Utilities Commission put out requests for proposals from developers for long-term contracts to "supply installed capacity and associated renewable energy and renewable energy credits from one or more deep-water offshore wind energy pilot projects or tidal energy demonstration projects."

The newly released Maine Offshore Wind Report provides project developers with research results that allow for more informed bids, but for the fishermen, "Our mission is to get involved with the developers to make sure [the wind farm] is sited properly and all stakeholders are on the same page." Basically, Libby said, "Our goal should be to lose no fishing jobs."

Anderson ended the meeting by saying that there will be more meetings and the goal of all of them is to "help make informed stakeholders for when developers come on." There are meetings scheduled for Tuesday, April 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the Friendship Town Office and for Tuesday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the Boothbay Regional High School auditorium, and Anderson said they may schedule additional meetings after summer residents return.