Energy technology developer Des FitzGerald of Camden said March 6 that deepwater wind turbines should have little effect on the way fishermen operate. He defined deepwater as water that is more than 200 feet deep.

FitzGerald is vice president of business development for Seattle-based Principle Power, which develops technologies used in the wind power industry. He was one of seven panelists who addressed the topic “What do ocean energy and wind power mean for Maine’s Fishermen” at the 2010 Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Samoset Resort March 4 to 6. FitzGerald was also interviewed by telephone on March 9.

Beth Nagusky of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection chaired the Ocean Energy Task Force, which recently delivered its report to Maine Gov. John Baldacci. The task force is supporting L.D. 1810, a bill that will be heard by the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee Thursday, March 11.

Nagusky described Maine’s position in the emerging field of commercial wind energy generation. She said 430 megawatts of wind power generation have already been permitted in Maine and another 400 megawatts are under development. She said Maine’s wind power potential, especially in deep waters close to and beyond the three-mile boundary with federal waters, is one of the most robust sources of energy known.

In mid-December, the state of Maine designated three locations to be demonstration sites for offshore wind technology.

A consortium of private companies, as well as academia led by the University of Maine’s Habib Dagher, will oversee the Monhegan site, which was allocated to the university for testing the products created by its laboratories under funding from the U.S. Department of Energy or other grantors. That site will also give the university opportunities for research in marine biology, geology and other related fields.

The DOE recently awarded the group an $8 million grant.

Principle Power hopes to have its turbine technology tested at the university site, FitzGerald said. WindFloat, a semi-submersible floating support structure for large offshore wind turbines, was conceived by Marine Innovation and Technology and is owned by Principle Power. FitzGerald said he can’t predict when large-scale ocean wind farms will be up and running, but he hopes to see such a facility within five years.

“Offshore wind developers’ biggest issue is the federal government’s inability to step outside of the normal seven-to-nine-year permitting process,” he said. “It’s an international business. You have little reason to come to the U.S. if it takes seven years and millions of dollars.”

FitzGerald said the industry is working hard with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Mineral Management Service to streamline the permitting process.

“They’re used to dealing with the oil and gas world at sea,” he said. “They think that’s what industry is OK with.”

The business of farming wind

Most of the audience questions at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum presentation focused on the effects of long-term commercial wind farms.

“How we share the bottom is an important discussion,” said Department of Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe. “Most people’s idea of sharing is to say ‘go share somewhere else.'”

He said changes proposed to the permitting process would not allow inappropriate projects to go through, but would make the process more logical. Lapointe said a major part of determining what projects are appropriate involves mapping the ocean bottom. He called on fishermen to participate in that mapping as the federal government increases its focus on marine spatial planning.

FItzGerald said deepwater sites reduce many of the negative impacts that occur with fossil fuel extraction, because the resource is renewable.

“I don’t think it’s infinite,” he said of the wind’s energy. “If you’ve got a sailboat sailing on the water and you’re racing, you can interfere with another boat by getting ahead of it in relation to the wind direction. To that degree you can change wind patterns and slow wind down in an area, but the ocean is vast.”

He said meeting energy needs will require turbines to cover a limited percentage of the ocean’s area and elevation.

“This is tapping one thin line at 250 feet in the air,” he said. “You’re talking about a very small space in a very large ocean. I don’t think we’re ever going to see the offshore area bristling with turbines.”

But FitzGerald said he did not want people to think the new energy source would provide an unlimited abundance of electrical power.

“I’m not interested in adding another form of electrons and using it unwisely,” he said. “But we use fossil fuel at our peril — both political and environmental. We need to replace it with other forms of energy.”

FitzGerald said the deepwater areas companies like his are designing for are generally far from fish stocks, since deeper water tends to support less biological life.

He said new tower and turbine designs use lighting that repels, rather than attracts, birds, and studies in Europe show that most avian species avoid wind farms.

In the short term Maine’s crenelated shoreline and abrupt drop in the ocean floor provide an opportunity to test technologies that will, eventually, be sited farther offshore, FitzGerald said.

Offshore New Jersey

Some fishermen in New Jersey have been highly proactive in collaborating with offshore wind developers.

According to the Web site at fishermensenergy.com, Fishermen’s Energy is a “community based offshore wind developer and consortium formed by principals of East Coast fishing companies.”

“We view offshore wind energy as an opportunity, rather than a threat,” said Fishermen’s Energy President Daniel Cohen. Cohen is the chief executive officer of Atlantic Capes Fisheries Inc., which manages 20 vessels, two waterfront facilities, a New England Marketing Division and operational facilities in Bristol, R.I.

“We can spend our money fighting this train that’s coming at us,” he said. “Fishermen can be agents for change, rather than victims because it’s where we work.” Cohen said his group helped build a coalition in New Jersey that included environmental advocates.

Neal Pettigrew of the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine said environmental impacts will be monitored in part by buoys built to withstand severe ocean weather. These buoys, one of which is already in place near Monhegan, will track a variety of factors such as wind speed, currents and changes in the ocean bottom. Another buoy will be placed at some distance from the test site in order to monitor the effects of vibration and sound on the marine ecosystem, he said.

Rob Snyder of the Island Institute described efforts to provide data that would help with siting large scale wind generation projects and monitor their impacts once they are up and running. He said it is important to gather the stories of Maine’s coastal and island communities in order to protect fishermen and understand “how the idea of community is practiced.”

“The current process forces people to exist as individuals,” Snyder said. He said future changes call for the sorts of innovation that come from people working together.

“By having the data we’ll be able to provide the voice that will identify areas of value [to the community] and make these projects successful,” he said.

In regard to impacts on human communities, Addison Ames of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative said deepwater facilities would probably not see the response that three turbines on Vinalhaven are receiving. Some residents of that island community have said the noise and vibrations coming from the new facility are making it difficult for them to sleep.

“Can man and machine get along?” Ames asked the gathering. “Not at this point in time. That means the industry needs to go to extremes — mountains, deserts and the ocean.”

Ames said deepwater wind farms would be less disturbing because of their distance from human habitation and there is plenty of room for fishing and power generation to share the resources of the seas.

“For the ratepayers of Vinalhaven we’ve done what we were supposed to do,” Ames said. “We’ve stabilized rates.”

FitzGerald said rate stabilization is one of the major gains to be had from wind power because most of the costs come up front, in the development and building process. He said rates should include funds to be set aside for ongoing repairs and equipment replacement.

“The beauty of renewable energy is that once you’ve locked the price, it’s going to stay that way,” FitzGerald said.

FitzGerald said about 600 jobs could be generated during the five or so years it would take to build a deepwater wind farm. He said about 50 or 60 jobs, in such fields as marine transportation, engineering, and environmental and performance monitoring, would stay in Maine once a facility was operational.

He said even more jobs would be generated for Maine if the state’s composites industry could begin making turbine blades and other components for the generators.

Maine would also receive revenue based on how much electricity is generated in state waters and up to three miles into federal waters, he said.

In the long term, FitzGerald said, deepwater facilities would leave virtually no trace after decommissioning.

“When you’re done or need to service the equipment, you pull anchor and tow it to shore,” he said of his company’s design.

As far as sharing the oceans with other human endeavors, FitzGerald said insurance requirements might make it prohibitive for fishermen to haul traps or conduct other activities in the vicinity of wind power facilities, but there is more than enough room to share.

“The less bottom you take, the better we can get along,” lobsterman Gerry Cushman of Port Clyde said.

Summary of L.D. 1810, An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force

L.D. 1810 would encourage the development of wind and tidal power generation and transmission facilities, allow for expedited permitting, and support Maine’s conversion from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels to use electrical energy for heating and transportation.

The bill calls for the establishment of a state goal of 8,000 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity, including 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind power, by 2030, and directs the use of the state’s credit rating to reduce financing costs of electric ratepayer-backed renewable ocean energy projects.

L.D. 1810 calls for a competitive solicitation for proposals for offshore wind, tidal and wave energy produced by one or more renewable ocean energy projects.

Under L.D. 1810 the state could refuse to lease submerged lands if it was determined that the lease would unreasonably interfere with customary or traditional public access ways to or public trust rights in, on or over the intertidal or submerged lands and the waters above those lands. While it calls for restoration of submerged lands “upon completion of authorized uses pursuant to permitting criteria; and adequate compensation to the public for use of its trust resources,” the bill states that development of “renewable ocean energy resources in appropriate locations promises significant public trust-related benefits to the people of this state.”

The bill would establish a Renewable Ocean Energy Trust, a nonlapsing, dedicated fund to be used “to protect and enhance the integrity of public trust-related resources and related human uses of the state’s submerged lands.”

Fifty percent of fees paid by developers would go to fund research, monitoring and other efforts to avoid, minimize and compensate for potential adverse effects of renewable ocean energy projects, with the other half used to fund resource enhancement, research on fish behavior and species abundance and distribution, and other issues and other efforts to avoid, minimize and compensate for potential adverse effects.

While the bill states that the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission or the chairman’s designee shall serve as a nonvoting member of the permitting body, it says the PUC representative is “not required to attend hearings when the commission considers an application for an expedited wind energy development as defined in Title 35-A, section 3451 or a community based offshore wind energy project.”