Originally published in Compass, July 18, 2013
Early phase of wind energy goal lands—and to stay longer—in Castine
by Anne Berleant
“The largest untapped source of energy is offshore wind,” said Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC). “And we have 60 gigawatts in the state of Maine.”
Dagher spoke at Maine Maritime Academy on July 2, broadly on the potential of wind power in Maine, and specifically on the VolturnUS, a research project of the DeepCwind Consortium backed by a $56 million Department of Energy grant and led by the ASCC.
The VolturnUS—named for the Roman god of easterly wind—is a 1:8 scale wind turbine floating since June 13 off Dyce Head in the Castine harbor. It collects data toward the consortium’s final goal—to generate 5 gigawatts of wind power in Maine by 2030, or “enough energy to heat every home, power every car,” Dagher said.
“We have [the equivalent of] 100 nuclear power plants off the shore of Maine—when the wind blows,” Dagher said.
The VolturnUS is the second of a five-phase plan that will next see a full-scale turbine moored off Monhegan Island in 2016, capable of pulling 600,000 pounds of wind every second.
That’s the equivalent of 264 mid-sized cars, said Dagher, and will power 2,000 homes with electricity.
The final goal is around 170 6-megawatt turbines in the Gulf of Maine by 2030, producing 5 gigawatts of wind-powered electricity.
“It sounds like a grandiose plan, yes,” Dagher said. “We have to walk before we run.”
Wind power can provide electricity at 10 cents per kilowatt, he said, and be used to heat homes and extend a gallon of gas to 100 miles per gallon in your hybrid- electric car. It can create jobs. And it can become as big an export as potatoes and lobster, reversing the annual “$5 billion we send out of Maine” on energy costs.
With those costs eating 20 percent of the average family’s budget and rising, harnessing Maine’s wind would reduce our dependence on oil and gas, the prices of which are “a geopolitical issue” over which “we have little control,” Dagher said.
The VolturnUS is the first floating wind turbine. Assembled on land and made from a carbon-based composite tower and concrete platform, it costs less and lasts longer than wind turbine designs used in Europe.
The 65-foot high VolturnUS was assembled at the Cianbro Corporation’s Brewer facility “like a Lego kit,” Dagher said, and then towed down the Penobscot River to Castine.
“It was like nothing anyone ever towed,” said Dagher—and that was before unpredicted winds gusted 20 to 25 miles per hour winds, causing four foot waves.
It sits on a three-hulled, semi-submersible platform, with three mooring lines connected to three anchors. The waters off Dyce Head are ideal because the average wave height matches the turbine’s 1:8 scale.
Originally slated to be towed to Monhegan Bay by July, the ACSS has obtained the necessary permits—and full support of the Town of Castine—for the VolturnUS to stay through the winter.
The floating turbine cost $1 million to build, and another $5 million in research costs, Dahger said, most of which went to environmental studies on the turbine’s impact on wildlife above and below the water.
Those studies showed no significant impact from underwater vibrations. Surveys of bat and bird populations in Castine before the turbine will be compared with surveys taken during its stay.
“We don’t have all the answers,” said Dagher. “Part of the answer is floating off the coast of Castine.”