Saturday, November 14, 2009

Boosting Deepwater, Offshore Wind Research

Weekly column by Senator Susan Collins

Here in Maine, we pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. These high prices are not only difficult for residential customers, but they are also an impediment to doing business in our state. During a recent tour of National Semiconductor in South Portland, company officials told me that the high cost of electricity is their number one issue in terms of adding jobs in Maine versus other states.

I believe that deepwater, offshore wind has enormous potential to help us meet our nation’s electricity needs and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But, it also presents an exciting opportunity for the State of Maine to help stabilize high electricity rates and create much-needed, good-paying “green jobs.”

I am introducing legislation that would require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application to advance offshore wind turbine technology. This bill would advance the goal of the Department of Energy to produce 20 percent of our nation’s electricity from wind resources by 2030.

Sixty-one percent of our country’s wind resource is in deepwater, greater than 197 feet depth. Winds at these offshore locations, out-of-sign from land, are stronger and more consistent than closer to shore or on land. It will, however, take technological advances to harness this energy efficiently and cost-effectively.

My bill would focus national efforts to develop offshore wind technologies. This should be a national priority because it can produce clean, renewable energy for major U.S. population centers. The 28 coastal states use 78 percent of the electricity in the U.S. For example, Maine’s offshore wind resource is close to the 55 million people live in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This is 18 percent of the total U.S. population.

Developing cost-competitive offshore wind technology will require improvements in the efficiency, reliability, and capacity of offshore wind turbines and reductions in the cost of manufacturing, construction, deployment, generation, and maintenance of offshore wind energy systems. That is why my bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to support existing university centers, like the new one at the University of Maine, and establish other centers to support research, development, demonstration and commercial application. The bill would authorize $50 million annually over ten years for:

* the design, demonstration, and deployment of advanced wind turbine foundations and support structures, blades, turbine systems, components, and supporting land- and water-based infrastructure for application in shallow water, transitional depth, and deep water offshore;
* full-scale testing and establishment of regional demonstrations of offshore wind components and systems to validate technology and performance;
* assessments of U.S. offshore wind resources, environmental impacts and benefits, siting and permitting issues, exclusion zones, and transmission needs for inclusion in a publically accessible database;.
* design, demonstration, and deployment of integrated sensors, actuators and advanced materials, such as composite materials;
* advanced blade manufacturing activity, such as automation, materials, and assembly of large-scale components, to stimulate the development of a U.S.-blade manufacturing capacity;
* methods to assess and mitigate the effects of wind energy systems on marine ecosystems and marine industries; and
* other research areas as determined by the Secretary.

Maine is already leading the way when it comes to deepwater, offshore wind research. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced an $8 million grant for research at the University of Maine. In addition, the final version of the 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill included $5 million that I secured for the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine. The State of Maine has also committed its own funding and policy initiatives toward supporting a deepwater, offshore wind research center at the University.

This is a critical investment in Maine’s future. Estimates are that development of five gigawatts of offshore wind in Maine – enough to power more than 1 million homes for a year -- could attract $20 billion of investment to the state and create more than 15,000 green energy jobs that will be sustained over 30 years. Maine has the manufacturing infrastructure and workforce to partner with the University to make this new industry of deepwater offshore wind technology a reality.

My bill would further support important renewable energy research that would help reduce our use of fossil fuels, improve our energy security, and help stabilize electricity rates. This is a great technological challenge, but we must begin to make the investments now.

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