Maine PUC considers offshore wind, tidal

Petit Manan Light, several miles off the Maine coast.Today the Maine Public Utilities Commission considers a term sheet for a long-term contract with the developer of a deepwater offshore wind or tidal energy project. If the Commission ultimately approves the contract, it could represent Maine utilities' first offshore wind or tidal power purchase agreement.

In recent years, coastal states have become excited by the possibility of developing offshore wind and tidal energy resources. Proponents hope that technological advances will enable both cost-effective energy production and economic development as the offshore wind sector gains a foothold. In 2010, following record oil prices, the Maine Legislature enacted a law directing the Public Utilities Commission to hold a competitive solicitation for offshore wind proposals. The law, P.L. 2009, ch. 615, requires the PUC to solicit proposals 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. Projects must employ one or more floating wind energy turbines in the Gulf of Maine, in water at least 300 feet deep and no less than 10 nautical miles offshore, and must be connected to the mainland grid. The program may also include proposals by small-scale tidal power projects for similar long-term power purchase agreements.

In September 2010, the Maine PUC issued a request for proposals under the program. Multiple bidders may have responded, although a subsidiary of Norwegian energy company Statoil may be the only entity to publicly announce its interest in developing a floating offshore wind project off Maine.

The Public Utilities Commission has placed the offshore wind contract docket on its agenda for today's deliberations as "Consideration of Long Term Contract Term Sheet". The Maine PUC has not previously deliberated any long-term power purchase agreements for offshore wind or tidal power, but its past practice for land-based renewable projects suggests a possible procedural path. If the Commission finds the terms of the proposal to be satisfactory and compliant with law, it may approve the term sheet and direct the bidder to negotiate a final contract with one or more Maine utilities. Alternatively, the Commission could reject the term sheet and invite the bidder to negotiate more favorable terms.

Deliberations start at 10:00 a.m. Will the Maine PUC show interest in the deepwater offshore wind or tidal power proposal before it today?