On a recent morning on Monhegan, a team of researchers from New Jersey Audubon showed up to scout potential locations for a study of the island’s bird population. They are the first of many research teams set to begin arriving this month as plans for the offshore wind-testing site get underway.
The project is in its initial phase in a timetable driven by L.D. 1465, the law that created the state’s offshore wind testing process. The next steps are site evaluation and investigation, as well as consultation with the state Department of Marine Resources. Stakeholder groups will also need to be made publicly aware of findings before permit applications for the site are submitted.
“We have no specific dates as to when any specific team will be on Monhegan,” said Jake Ward, assistant vice president of research, economic and governmental relations at the University of Maine. “In April, they may likely see the beginning of bird and bat monitoring and boat traffic for collecting geophysical data from the bottom. Again, these are best guesses. We will let islanders know the specifics as they evolve.”
In December, Monhegan was one of three locations chosen for offshore wind testing by the Maine State Planning Office and the Maine Department of Conservation. The AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine is leading the 38-member DeepCWind Consortium to install test turbines at the Monhegan site. University officials have said they seek to install one 100-kilowatt turbine and one 10-killowatt turbine at this site, which is located less than two miles south of Monhegan’s Lobster Cove.
The micrositing process will begin once the first teams of researchers are deployed. This process will test bottom type and water depth. It will also give researchers an idea of how best to deploy an offshore test unit, whether it be from the ocean bottom, on a barge or using submersed buoy system. University officials plan to have a test turbine in the water in 2011.
Cianbro has been hired as a task manager to build, deploy and recover the test turbines. The company will work with Bath Iron Works and Maine Maritime Academy to manage these parts of the project. When appropriate, work will be subcontracted out to smaller firms, particularly those close to the test site.
In mid-February UMaine officials held a meeting on Monhegan to talk with residents about the project. The meeting was led by Ward and Robert Lindyberg, Ph.D from UMaine’s composites center.
An overarching question from islanders at the February 16 meeting was whether the wind testing would bring any immediate jobs.
“The goal is to hire locally, whenever possible,” said Elizabeth Viselli, associate program manager for the composites center, in an interview. Approximately $100,000 has been budgeted to hire island captains to work with researchers. Additionally, islanders with larger vessels will be hired to help transfer land radar units. “If islanders don’t have the capacity to help bring over certain equipment, we’ll look to Port Clyde or other neighboring communities to continue to keep it local,” said Viselli.
On-island opportunities will also include the hiring of a technical liaison to provide assistance and information to researchers, as well as a few individuals to help maintain data collection equipment that is sited on Monhegan.
The university also made the decision to set up housing at a local inn and cottages to spread funding to local businesses, rather than renting a single home for researcher housing.
Fishing was another concern brought up at the meeting. Local catches off Monhegan has changed drastically, even in the last 20 years, with the disappearance of cod. Residents sought assurance that the test deployments would not affect their fishing season.
One of the key factors in selecting Monhegan as a test site was because of their unique fishing season, which runs from October through June, as opposed to other fishing communities where their peak is during the summer months. “Our current plan is to deploy test units in early summer and have them out of the water in time for the beginning of the season,” said Viselli.
Concern about the ecological impact on the wildlife was also voiced, as Monhegan remains a stopover point for migratory birds and other wildlife.
The offshore testing site is temporary, though the question of creating a permanent source of wind power to Monhegan comes up often. There are no current plans to power Monhegan, as the site is specifically for research purposes, “though the conversation remains open,” said Viselli.
Both researchers and island residents agree that the testing will be a learning process for all. “The University of Maine staff has answered as many questions as they can,” said Mattie Thomson, president of the board of trustees of the Monhegan Power Company. “The whole team has been very up front with what they know.”
As far as the overall reaction to the testing from the community, Thomson thinks it’s positive, though there still remains a fraction who are guarded, especially after hearing complaints about vibration noise and construction traffic from their neighbors on Vinalhaven.
“For me,” said Thomson, “I think this is the way of the future. I’m definitely a pro wind guy.”
Laura Serino is a freelance writer who lives in Portland. Suzanne Pude, director of the Island Institute’s Maine Coast Community Wind Program and Gillian Garratt-Reed, marine programs officer for the Island Institute, also contributed to this article.