U.S. playing catch-up in offshore wind race

With excellent wind resources off the U.S. East Coast, it's high time wind energy developers start investing in the region. A promising start might be underway off the coast of Maine, where Statoil is working to develop a floating turbine.


The United States lags notoriously behind Europe in its development of offshore wind energy resources, despite the fact that the eastern seaboard of the U.S. offers some of the best wind resources in the world. The Obama Administration has worked fairly aggressively over the last four years to streamline permitting for offshore wind energy development, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has help move along the Cape Wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts.

Some of the best wind energy can be found along the Maine coast, and that state has placed itself in the middle of offshore wind turbine development. The University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center, in particular, deserves much credit for its efforts to develop wind blade research and development facilities and technologies conducive to Maine's deep seawaters.

It's those deep waters that make Maine such a challenge. Relatively shallow water in the North Sea (north of Germany) and off the English coast allow wind turbine towers to be anchored directly in sea bed. That's not an option off the coast of Maine, however, which has pushed the state of Maine and its partners toward floating turbine designs.

Maine took a big step down this road on Jan. 24 when its Public Utilities Commission approved terms of a project by Norway's Statoil to build a $120 million deepwater floating wind turbine demonstration project in the Gulf of Maine. Statoil has experience with floating platforms and is likely the best resource for the Main effort.

Statoil has agreed to locate its project operations center for the project in Maine, and it has established a collaborative research and development relationship with the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center. 

Critics worry that energy from the project will be unaffordable. At the very least, the project will help prove (or disprove) the viability of floating turbines, and may help guide other offshore farms in development along the U.S. coast.