Maine is moving rapidly — but carefully — toward its goal of becoming the leader in deepwater offshore wind production.

That was the message delivered by two keynote speakers and four panels of academics, government officials and representative of for-profit and nonprofit businesses at the First Annual Maine Offshore Wind Conference, Oct. 19, at Point Lookout in Northport, sponsored by the DeepCwind Consortium.

Tuesday’s all-day event, sponsored by the DeepCwind Consortium, began with keynote speeches from Prof. Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and Cianbro Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Vigue

Since June 2009, when he spoke about UMaine’s work with lightweight, durable materials at that year’s EnergyOcean conference in Rockport, Dagher has become an active spokesman for Maine’s efforts to attract public and private support for the establishment of a test site for technology that would gather energy from the exceptionally high winds that travel through the Gulf of Maine in areas where the ocean depth is greater than 100 feet.

In his opening remarks on Tuesday, Dagher described a 550-foot bridge made of composite materials that Maine’s Department of Transportation is constructing. The Knickerbocker Bridge in Boothbay will be the largest composite bridge in the world, Dagher said. He said the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Prospect was build using some carbon fiber strands. Sensors in those strands are monitoring how the material handles stresses in comparison with the steel strands that were used to make the majority of the bridge, he said.

Tests are the main focus of DeepCwind’s efforts at this time. Three types of turbine platform are under consideration for the Monhegan test site — single spar, tension leg, and buoyancy stabilized designs.

Ocean wind projects in Europe focus largely on the nearshore environment, Dagher said. He said concerns about placing large-scale projects within the viewshed was detrimental to development and reiterated a position stated at recent Rockport Conservation Commission forum.

“People come to Maine to see nothing,” he said Oct 19.

He said composites technology made it possible to build turbines on shore and tow them to their final location, reducing costs for installation and maintenance.

Education and infrastructure to drive economic growth

Vigue led a panel presentation that included Maine Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw; Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston; and UMaine Dean of Engineering Dana Humphrey. That portion of the program addressed the economic effects of offshore wind development in the region.

“Everyone in the world is starting to focus on the Atlantic Coast,” Vigue said. He pointed to a recent announcement by Google of a major investment a network of deepwater transmission that would run as far as 20 miles offshore from Virginia to New Jersey and said that Maine was attracting international developers and equipment manufacturers.

“People are taking a very serious look at us,” Vigue said. “Google thinks its possible, and I think it’s possible.”

Vigue said that more than eight years of challenges to the proposed Cape Wind project and ongoing objection to land-based wind farms supported Dagher’s statement of a need to site large-scale wind generators out of the sight of land.

Henshaw described facilities available at Eastport, Searsport and Portland that are able to handle large components used in constructing wind farms. He said that, while those parts are currently coming into Maine for land-based projects, he could envision a time when Maine would be an exporter for international wind projects.

Rector described Knox and Lincoln counties as the epicenter of a global demographic shift to an older and less productive population. He spoke at length about the Many Flags, One Campus project that would integrate a high school, community college and industry training center at one location in the Midcoast.

“There are jobs available for which there are not good workers,” Rector said. He said the integrated campus would help raise student aspirations and provide new career paths for those who want to work on the water.

While the state recently approved the Many Flags proposal in concept, “funding may present some hurdles,” he said.

Humphreys agreed that there were increasing opportunities and pointed to a study that showed new and emerging occupations in energy development. He said UMaine would offer new degrees, including a master’s in renewable energy engineering, that would train students for this growing field.

“It is critical, as we invest in new technology, that we invest in the workforce that will implement that new technology here in Maine,” Humphreys said.

Rigorous testing planned for site

Afternoon sessions at the conference described the monitoring and test methods that are being used to prepare for the 2012 launch of a one-third sized test platform and turbine about two miles south of Monhegan Island, as well as those studies that will continue once that structure is afloat.

Andrea Copping senior program manger for coastal and marine waters at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Sequim, Wash., described work being done to monitor impacts on marine life both above and below the surface of the water. She said that the DeepCwind project offered “the best game in town” for a real world study of such impacts.

Other members of that panel gave in-depth descriptions of the types of studies that would help scientists and developers understand the way a large industrial development of floating turbines would interact with the environment.

The next panel presented information on the three types of floating platform. These designs will first be tested in a wave tank to see how they undergo wind and wave pressures. Data from those tests will help determine which design is selected for testing in the Gulf of Maine.

The selected design will be scaled down to a one-third size working model and placed in the waters off Monhegan in the late summer of 2012, where it will remain until the following November. Panelists said that the smaller size would increase the impacts of ocean conditions to allow scientist to understand how the turbine system will respond to conditions throughout the year.

Des Fitzgerald of Camden represented Principle Power and was the only private business representative, other than Vigue, to address the conference. He described his company’s involvement in a near-shore wind project in Portugal that is expected to deploy next year and said Maine is developing the infrastructure to take advantage of the excellent wind resource off its shores.

The comment period for the U.S. Department of Energy proposal to award funding to the University of Maine to construct, deploy and retrieve one-third scale floating wind turbines within the deepwater offshore wind test site in the Gulf of Maine approximately two miles south of Monhegan Island ended Oct. 18.

The Monhegan site is one of three designated by the state of Maine designated mid-December, to be demonstration sites for offshore wind technology. The other two sites are available for private industry to use for testing through a streamlined application and permitting process.

DeepCWind, a consortium of private companies as well as academia led by the University of Maine’s Habib Dagher will oversee the Monhegan site. The site will give the university opportunities for research in marine biology, geology and other related fields.

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

Deepwater turbines are those set on floating platforms in more than 200 feet of water offshore, where high winds have the potential to produce a greater amount of energy than at inshore and land-based sites. Test areas were chosen based on average wind speed, ocean depth and the obstruction-free location within state-controlled waters.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.