Officials on Tuesday identified locations of three offshore wind-power test sites that could unlock the door to huge reserves of energy equivalent to more than 100 nuclear plants in the nation's most oil-dependent state.
The sites will be near Boon Island off York in southern Maine, near Damariscove Island south of Boothbay Harbor, and south of Monhegan Island off Port Clyde, Gov. John Baldacci's administration announced. The University of Maine, which has received an $8 million federal grant for offshore wind power studies, will develop the Monhegan site.
Maine already leads New England in development of land-based wind power with three major wind farms in operation and more on the way. The state is now looking to harness abundant winds beyond its long, jagged coastline to help meet energy needs for the region.
"This is where the future lies," Baldacci said during a news conference to announce the sites. "We want to become an energy generating center."
State officials also see an opportunity in nurturing industries that would produce components of the deep-sea structures, such as blades and generators churned by constant Gulf of Maine gusts.
Full-scale development of wind-related industries could create 15,000 jobs in Maine, said Habib Dagher, director of UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center who has been at the forefront of the state's offshore wind research.
Within 50 miles of its coast, Maine has potential wind energy of 149 gigawatts, roughly the equivalent power of 149 nuclear plants, Dagher said. The state's goal is to have enough offshore turbines to produce 5 gigawatts of power _ about twice Maine's yearly consumption _ by 2030, Dagher said.
That could add up to hundreds of turbines, which would be situated 10 to 20 miles offshore, out of sight from the mainland.
Experimentation will start on a much smaller scale, with floating test turbines anchored in 200 to 300 feet of water within 3 miles of each of the islands.
Officials plan to have the first floating turbines in place in 2011, Dagher said. Larger windmills would be deployed starting in 2013, before construction of the first windmills in a commercial array.
The demonstration sites will also measure the potential to produce power by wave energy, but the focus is on wind power. Private companies will be invited to propose projects at the Boon Island and Damariscove Island sites. Each demonstration area is limited to two turbines.
UMaine has already spoken to about 30 private and public groups interested in working at its site.
The final ocean demonstration sites were chosen after 40 public meetings with fishermen, conservation groups, public officials and others with an interest in offshore activities.