Maine Powers Up With Nation-Leading Renewable Energy Innovations
Throughout Maine, public support and savvy use of natural resources are feeding nation-leading innovation in biomass, offshore wind, and tidal power.
UMaine is fast becoming a national leader in clean energy, thanks to public support and the savvy use of natural resources. The state generates almost 25 percent of its energy - more than any other state - from renewables, and clean energy job growth is more than twice the national average. Policy initiatives fueling this boom include a robust renewables portfolio standard, backed by the 2008 Renewable Resource Act and the publicly funded Maine Technology Institute, which has provided seed capital for many clean energy projects. “We're also in a position in New England where a lot of our neighbors have aggressive renewable energy targets, and we're building partnerships with the nearby Canadian provinces to help encourage a renewable energy rebirth for the entire northeast of North America,” says Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor's Energy Office. Biomass: Forest Fuel On the natural resource side, the state's expansive, sustainably managed forests are literally feeding innovations in biomass. Verso Paper recently invested $42.3 million at its Bucksport mill to convert a boiler from coal to biomass. The company also installed a steam turbine to capture the resulting 25 megawatts of energy, which Verso sells on the state's energy market to offset the mill's overall power costs. The company says the project has numerous benefits: a drastic reduction in the mill's carbon dioxide emissions, a lower electricity bill for Verso and 50-plus new jobs in Verso's waste-wood supply chain. “We received a $2 million competitive grant through the Efficiency Maine Trust to help purchase our turbine and more than that, there were letters written and doors opened to help us put the project together,” says Mark Daniel, vice president of energy and technology. “Along with the benefits of the project, that allowed us to put together a package our investors could approve.” Winning With Wind At the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composite Center (ASCC), researchers are harnessing another of Maine's natural resources: wind. “The Gulf of Maine has the equivalent of 156 nuclear power plants in offshore winds – that's a huge resource,” says Elizabeth Viselli, ASCC's manager of offshore wind programs and global communications. “And of course we can export the electricity into high-load centers like Boston, just as we would blueberries or lobster.” ASCC already has a 37,000-square-foot offshore wind lab where researchers can conduct environmental and fatigue tests on turbine components and materials. In late 2014, the center will add a large wind-wave basin facility that will bring total lab space to 98,000 square feet. But ASCC's contributions aren't all theoretical. In June 2013, the ASCC-founded DeepCwind Consortium launched the VolturnUS 1:8, North America's first grid-connected offshore wind turbine. The one-eighth-scale prototype is forerunner to New England Aqua Ventus, a two-stage offshore wind farm that will produce 500-1,000 megawatts of energy by 2020. Waves of Energy Maine's waters are also the site of the nation's first operational tidal power project, constructed by Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC) in Cobscook Bay. ORPC received crucial financial assistance for the project from several state resources, including the Maine Technology Institute, the Finance Authority of Maine and regional economic development organizations. John Ferland, vice president of project development, also points to the state's 2010 Ocean Energy Act, which fostered the company's 5- megawatt power purchase agreement with Bangor Hydro Electric Co. He says Maine's long ocean-going history has enabled ORPC to hire employees and build a supply chain within the state, since boat-building expertise, materials and equipment translate well to the hydropower industry. The result: more than $21 million pumped into the state's economy, and more than 100 jobs created in 13 Maine counties. “Maine has the capability needed to service green industry, everything from engineering to environmental expertise to how to put your product in the marketplace,” Ferland says. “Renewable energy in Maine is a very compelling story, and it bodes well for the future of the economy here.” Find more perks about doing business in Maine at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.