In response to recommendations made by the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force, Maine’s Public Utilities Commission will release a solicitation by September 1 for an offshore commercial wind farm.

In April, the legislature passed a law implementing the recommendations of the task force (public law 2010, chapter 615), which directs the utilities commission to solicit proposals for a power purchase agreement from an offshore energy developer.

Projects may generate up to 30 megawatts (MW) of power in total, only five of which can be produced by tidal power. However, if a company is chosen to move forward with development, it must also have the capacity to expand to a 100-megawatt project.

The number of turbines required to produce 30 MW varies depending on the size of the turbine, but if a developer used turbines at the size that GE is developing for offshore wind applications (4.0 MW), the project would involve 7 turbines to produce 28 MW.  A 100-megawatt project would involve 25 of these turbines.

The law stipulates that, for a wind project to be eligible, the turbines are required to float and must be placed in water at least 300-feet deep—a new technology that is still in the testing and development phase.

The project must also be sited at least ten miles from the mainland or any of Maine’s inhabited islands.

For a company to be accepted for a contract they are required to have a commitment to invest in manufacturing facilities in the state. According to the law such facilities include but are not limited to “component, turbine, blade, foundation or maintenance facilities.”

The law also stipulates that the project must be operating within five years after a contract is finalized—a very tight timeline to negotiate a regulation process that, at present time, takes a minimum of seven years to grant the necessary permits for a wind project. If a developer is unable to meet that timeline, the Public Utilities Commission does have the authority to grant extensions.

Any project developed in response to the solicitation would be tied into the grid in Maine and would provide power to the state.

If a developer is able to meet the multitude of criteria set by the law, the Public Utilities Commission will direct one of the state’s transmission or distribution utilities (Central Maine Power or Bangor Hydro) to enter a long-term contract of up to 20 years to purchase power from the wind project. While a long-term contract has the potential to save money over the duration due to the presumed increase in oil prices, it would likely increase power rates initially. According to Mitch Tannenbaum, deputy general council for the Maine Public Utilities Commission, increases to ratepayers would be limited to 1.45 mils (a tenth of a cent) per kilowatt/hour.

The timeline for the whole solicitation is designed to be fast-moving. “We do have extensive experience doing long-term contracting solicitation,” says Tannenbaum. “Once the RFP (request for proposals) goes out we’ll give two months, maybe three for proposals. Then it will depend on how many bids we get. There are an awful lot of things we’re supposed to do to determine if a contract should be signed.”

Even so, Tannenbbaum believes that the process should be complete within a year. If there is a successful bid that meets the state’s criteria, and the ensuing project meets the tight timeline outlined by the law, Maine could have an operating commercial wind farm well before the end of the decade.

Gillian Garratt-Reed is editor of The Working Waterfront.