On November 30, federal regulators announced they have received a completed lease application for a pilot-scale wind power project in deep water south of Boothbay. State and federal members of the Maine Task Force of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will meet to review the unsolicited request for a lease for a wind-energy project from Norwegian-based gas and oil company Statoil on December 8 at the Marriott Hotel in South Portland, at 9:30 a.m. The meeting is open to the public, with limited opportunity for public comment.

The project is considered the first-of-its-kind prototype of a floating-platform turbine wind farm. In 2009, Statoil erected the first floating wind turbine off the coast of Norway. This project would be considered small in scale in comparison to other wind projects, but would be the largest floating turbine project in the world, according to Statoil spokesman Ola Morten Aanestad.

Statoil is considering several sites around the world for its first floating wind turbine power project; published reports quoting Statoil spokespeople say the company is also considering a site in Scotland, although Aanestad declined to confirm this. It is also unclear whether the sites are in competition.

“Probably it would be [just] one, but it depends,” said Aanestad. “Maine is one of the sites which has come the furthest.”

Maine’s deep waters are considered a prime location for offshore wind projects because of close proximity to urban centers like Boston, strong and steady winds and the state’s favorable regulatory attitude toward such projects, said Aanestad.

In recent years, Maine regulators and lawmakers during the Baldacci and LePage administrations have shaped policy to encourage offshore wind projects more than 10 nautical miles from shore in water more than 300 feet in depth or greater. Also, the University of Maine Offshore Wind Energy Laboratory at the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composite Center has been working with wind developers on new tools for offshore wind turbine construction and siting, including a detailed map showing favorable locations for wind development that would minimize conflict with current commercial uses of the ocean.

To be cost-effective, deep water wind projects must utilize floating platforms, tethered by cables, over traditionally-anchored platforms used by projects nearer to shore, said Elizabeth Viselli, associate project manager of the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center. But that option is becoming more viable with the development of new computer models, tools and designs.

There are advantages to siting a project in deep water that go beyond steady wind, she said.

“The further you go, the less likely you are to conflict with existing uses,” Viselli said.

One of the disruptions of such a project would be the placement of the cable that would carry the electricity generated by the project, said Sean Mahoney, director of the Maine Advocacy Center of the Conservation Law Foundation. But such a problem is not new, nor unique to wind power, he said.

“There have been plenty of underwater cables,” Mahoney said.

Local environmental impacts of floating wind turbines are also of interest for residents and researchers in Maine, according to Heather Deese, vice president of programs at the Island Institute, who has been working with marine scientists and ornithologists on initial environmental monitoring studies for the University of Maine’s DeepCwind initiative.

“We have a lot to learn about how animals will interact with new structures offshore,” said Deese. “Well-designed pilot projects could provide the necessary data to help us understand what the impact will be.”

There has been some initial concern among Maine fishermen about the project’s potential impact on fishing grounds. A map of the proposed site shows that it may overlap with some important shrimping and groundfishing territory, said Ben Martens, policy director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. Both the groundfishing and shrimping industries have taken financial hits in recent years, and Martens believes it’s important to be cautious about development in good fishing habitat.

“Once something’s developed, it’s gone for good,” said Martens.

Statoil has declared it will work with local stakeholders to address any issues that may come up with the project. Aanestad said the company has a strong record ensuring that its many oil and gas projects can coexist with fishermen in Norway.

That may be a good omen of the project’s success; it’s outreach to the community that may make any offshore wind project successful, said Mahoney.

 “The successful wind companies on land have been those that have been proactive”¦in their effort to reach out to the various stakeholders,” said Mahoney.

To see the full document with a map of the location of the proposed lease area, click here.