Renewable Energy Powers Maine's Economy
Learn how Maine has taken a leadership role in the renewable energy industry, thanks to the pioneering work of businesses across the state that are advancing the development of wind, biomass and tidal resources.
Maine is growing its reputation as a leader in the renewable energy industry, thanks to the pioneering work of businesses across the state that are advancing the development of wind, biomass and tidal resources. Maine firms leading sustainable energy innovation include Westbrook-based Pika Energy, which is working to develop renewable energy transmission technology for small-scale electricity grids; Wiscasset-based Peregrine Turbine, which is developing turbine technology to improve efficiency in aerospace, ships and distributed energy generation; and Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC), whose technology uses tidal energy to generate electricity. The renewable energy sector is attracting the attention of investors and creating the jobs of the future, says Chris Sauer, president and CEO of ORPC. The company is the only firm in the world to have built, operated and delivered power to shore from both hydrokinetic tidal and river projects. “It's a feather in Maine's cap to have a Maine business achieve this first in the field of marine hydrokinetic energy systems,” Sauer says. Generating Jobs, Investment ORPC is also working on technology that harnesses the power of fast-moving rivers to generate electricity for remote Arctic villages, where power costs are high. In addition to electrical power, ORPC’s technology is generating jobs and investment. ORPC has raised more than $63 million in committed capital, more than half from private investors and the rest from federal and state sources, including Maine and Alaska. In return for Maine’s investment of just under $4 million, ORPC has spent more than $25 million in the state, with approximately $6 million spent in Washington County. The company’s supply chain has grown to include 85 companies in 14 Maine counties. “During the first phase of the Maine Tidal Energy Project in 2011 through 2013, ORPC activities created or retained 84 jobs," Sauer says. "The Maine Tidal Energy Project will directly create or retain 43 jobs in Maine beginning in 2016, resulting in approximately $2.5 million in payroll." Another form of sustainable energy is being developed at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, where researchers are focused on developing deep-water floating offshore wind technology to harness the powerful winds off the Maine coast. “We have developed technologies for floating wind turbines and tested them in the Gulf of Maine off Castine," says Habib Joseph Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center. "Maine’s largest untapped renewable resource is offshore wind." Sustainable Resources As the wind industry matures, the economic impact could be tremendous, Dagher says. “A single 500MW farm off the coast of Maine will attract about $4 billion in private capital and create hundreds of local jobs," Dagher says. "If we build a 5GW network of offshore wind farms in Maine, this will attract $20 billion in capital to the state and create thousands of jobs." The university also works with major wind turbine manufacturers, recently conducting testing for Spanish manufacturer Gamesa. The sustainable energy industry has already created significant financial and job investment in Maine, says Paul Williamson, former director of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative. To date, $1.28 billion has been spent in Maine, plus increased employee earnings of $1.14 billion. On average, wind and ocean energy has supported 1,500 Maine jobs annually, he says. “Local development has resulted in the creation of new technical expertise that is now exportable,” Williamson says. In a 2014 survey, 60 companies that provide products and services to wind and ocean energy reported that 14 percent of their wind and ocean energy-related revenues from 2011-2014 were generated by projects outside of Maine, including international sources, Williamson says. Maine is also developing sustainable energy technologies on shore. As the most heavily forested state in the nation, the state is using its traditional logging industry to create a leading biomass market, with 9 million acres of forest land certified as sustainably managed. Biomass alone accounts for more than one-fourth of the state’s power generation, and Maine has the nation's highest per capita generation of electricity from biomass. “Since the 1980s, biomass has complemented traditional logging, producing electricity from parts of a tree that once might have been wasted,” says Roberta Scruggs, communications director for the Maine Forest Products Council.