Oceans called solution to energy crisis

By Stephen Betts | Nov 16, 2009
Photo by: Stephen Betts Matthew Simmons

Rockland — Ocean energy may be the only viable solution to the depletion of fossil fuels.

And Midcoast Maine may be at the center of that solution, according to Matthew Simmons, a co-founder of the Ocean Energy Institute, which plans to open an office in Rockland in the next few months.

Simmons, one of the keynote speakers at the 2009 Sustainable Island Living Conference this past weekend, addressed a gathering Saturday morning at the Strand Theatre in Rockland.

He painted a grim picture of the world's energy supplies, saying the peak of oil production has passed and production will continue to decline.

"We are being hurtled toward nonsustainability," he said.

Within 10 years, home heating oil may not be produced anymore as oil producers use the limited supplies for other purposes, he said. That will be particularly difficult for Maine, which relies heavily on home heating oil, he said.

The oceans, however, offer the potential for energy to replace fossil fuels. The Ocean Energy Institute is working to place a series of floating wind turbines offshore to produce liquid ammonia for fuel and electricity.

The Midcoast could become the Silicon Valley for modern alternative energy supplies, Simmons said. In the end, he said, he hoped there could be hundreds of ocean energy institutes around the globe.

Simmons is the founder and chairman emeritus of the energy firm Simmons & Company International based in Houston, Texas. The company provides investment banking for energy products. He is also author of the book "Twilight in the Desert," which was published in 2005 and talks about the depletion of oil.

Simmons also maintained that natural gas and coal have passed their peak and are in decline. The depletion coincides with growth of countries such as China, India and Brazil and the rapid growth of the world population.

"The world has no Plan B for alternative energy supplies," Simmons told the gathering.

The one viable solution is the ocean, he said. Ocean Energy is working with the state, including the University of Maine, and the U.S. Department of Energy on pilot projects that call for floating wind turbines. The test projects would be located within three miles of the Maine Coast but the long-term plan is for the series of floating systems to be located 10 to 12 miles offshore to avoid disrupting fishing grounds or being an aesthetic problem.

Simmons said the Midcoast will soon be home to a Department of Energy research laboratory. The site was not specified.

He made reference to the 1967 movie "The Graduate" in which Dustin Hoffman's character was advised to go into the plastics industry. Simmons said today's graduates should be promoting ocean energy.

During a question-and-answer session with participants at the Sustainable Island Living Conference, Simmons said that while solar energy is a good use for homes, it will not serve population areas.

Two members of the audience asked Simmons why there is not more of an emphasis on conservation. He said significant conservation efforts could give the world another three or four decades of current energy supplies but in the long term, the ocean must be the answer.

Instead of energy efficient refrigerators, for example, Simmons said major changes in society are needed. He said many people could do their current jobs from home, reducing the use of fuel.

There also needs to be an end to the current global food system, which consumes massive amounts of energy. Instead, food needs to be grown locally, he said.

And in passenger transportation, he said he expects to see the return of ocean vessels and trains.

The Ocean Energy Institute plans to open an office in the Breakwater Marketplace in a couple of months.

Simmons praised Gov. John Baldacci for his leadership in pushing for alternative fuel production.

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