To harness huge amounts of potential wind power far from shore, vast floating wind farms are planned in the Gulf of Maine

And that’s exactly what Habib Dagher intends to achieve in the Gulf of Maine, with the first of these monumental structures planned a few miles off the coast of Monhegan Island in 2025.

Dagher is the executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine at Orono, and his is the first in the United States of the next generation of wind turbines that are the clean energy world’s new great hope. . Federal officials believe that two-thirds of the country’s wind potential are in waters too deep for traditional wind turbines, with some of the best locations off the coast of New England, particularly the Gulf of Maine.

“This is a major opportunity,” said Dagher, who has been researching and designing floating turbine technology for more than a decade. “There’s enough offshore wind to power the country four times, all within 50 miles of shore.”

VolturnUS 1:8 was launched off Brewer, Maine on June 1, 2013. It became the first offshore wind turbine to put electricity on the US grid.
University of Maine

Engineers such as Dagher envision vast floating wind farms in the Gulf of Maine, where federal officials estimate reliable gusts well offshore have the capacity to generate more than five times the amount of electricity used on average in New England. . But their vision has drawn criticism from fishermen, who worry about the impact of floating turbines on sea life and worry about their ability to fish in industrialized waters.

Dagher’s team has received millions of dollars in research and development funding from the federal government, which has promoted floating wind as a way to solve the thorny problems of erecting wind turbines too close to shore, where they tend to stir up opposition, and take advantage of any potential wind power further.

Its design rests on steel-reinforced concrete hulls, each with three massive partially submerged columns, specially designed to limit the pitch of their turbines to just a few degrees – even in 70-foot waves and gusts of over 100 miles per hour .

His team members’ first prototype, tested in 2013, proved their concept, as did similar projects built more recently off the coast of Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, they said. Scotland has raised nearly $1 billion this year from coastal water leases for building 15 gigawatts of floating wind power, enough for some 5 million homes.

The floating turbine the team is designing for the location off Monhegan Island would have a capacity of 11 megawatts. In addition to the large columns, the turbines would have a range of technologies to keep them stable in the water: heavy mooring lines that weigh around 15 pounds per foot and would be attached to multiple anchors weighing up to 40 tons; software that automatically moves the rotor blades for optimal energy production; and the equivalent of seismic absorbers used in buildings to reduce their movement during an earthquake.

“On a normal day, you would have a hard time seeing it moving,” Dagher said. “It would look fixed.”

If they can overcome regulatory and political hurdles and the turbine proves robust enough to handle rough seas, Dagher’s team plans to build a floating farm of a dozen turbines with a capacity of nearly of 150 megawatts about 20 miles to the south.

Ally Rzesa/Globe Staff

Biden administration officials announced a map in September to create 15 gigawatts of electricity with floating turbines by 2035. This is in addition to a previous administration goal to build 30 gigawatts of offshore wind using traditional turbines by 2030.

Their plan, part of Biden’s pledge to halve the country’s carbon emissions by the end of the decade, focuses on installing floating turbines in the Gulf of Maine and off the coast of west coast, where the waters are too deep for traditional turbines.

Last month, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm unveiled plans for $50 million in tech research and called the administration’s ambitions a “big bold and hairy goal,” adding that Biden is “completely convinced of making floating offshore wind a real part of our energy mix”. “, reported the Associated Press.

She said the money, plus a recent launch competition for new technologies, aims to reduce floating wind costs by 70% by 2035.

“We believe the private sector will quickly see the real opportunity here to not only triple the nation’s accessible offshore wind resources, but also to establish the United States as a world leader in the manufacture and deployment of offshore wind,” she said.

Dr. Habib Dagher, in front of the VolturnUS 1:8 floating turbine at the 2013 launch event in Brewer, Maine. University of Maine

But the prospect of large wind farms has prompted an outcry from some local fishermen and environmental groups.

Fishermen fear that webs of mooring lines – each the thickness of a telephone pole – criss-crossing the seabed and attached to massive anchors will prevent them from setting their traps or towing their nets.

“We have great reservations about offshore wind development,” said Erik Anderson, president of the New Hampshire Commercial Fishermen’s Association. “There are so many questions – environmental, marine, economic and others – that have not been sufficiently answered or investigated to sustain the huge commitment to the strategy.”

In response to a recent request for comment from the US Office of Ocean Energy Management, which is considering potential locations for floating wind farms in the Gulf of Maine, Anderson urged the agency to ban such development.

The noise and electromagnetic fields created by the turbines, he warned, could have “serious consequences” in the Gulf of Maine, which he described as an “ecologically sensitive body of water with enormous productivity and incalculable in all aspects of marine life”.

He and others in the fishing industry also worry about the challenges of navigating around turbines and moorings.

“The development of new industrial oceans should only be approached with full consideration of national food security and the cultural and economic needs of our coastal communities,” said Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition fishing groups and businesses.

She worries that federal officials “praise first and ask questions later.”

Proponents of floating wind in the Gulf of Maine said deeper waters would mean far less conflict with anglers, most of whom fish closer to shore. Further offshore, they are also less likely to arouse opposition from those concerned about their views.

The VolturnUS 1:8 hull was towed from Brewer to Castine, Maine in 2013.
University of Maine

Dagher said his team is moving slowly, working with state and federal officials, to make sure they minimize those conflicts.

“We’ve heard from the industry, and that’s why we’re slowing down,” he said.

His team had hoped to have installed 5 gigawatts of floating wind power — enough to power all of Maine — by the end of the decade. Instead, they have no plans to build large wind farms in the Gulf of Maine until then.

“The concerns of the fishing industry are important to us,” Dagher said. “We want to do it right and take a deliberate approach.”

Some environmental groups have teamed up with fishing groups, echoing calls of the New England Fishery Management Council for federal officials to conduct a comprehensive environmental review before installing wind farms in the Gulf of Maine.

The federal authorities, however, refused to do so.

Conservationists are concerned about the impact of underwater noise from turbines and marine debris, such as old fishing ropes, which get caught in mooring lines, potentially entangling marine mammals along the way. of extinction such as North Atlantic right whales. The lines themselves are too thick and taut to tangle the whales.

Erica Fuller, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston, said the government’s decision “embodies short-term thinking that will only cause long-term problems.”

“Advancing offshore wind is critical to addressing the climate crisis and cleaning up our power grid, but it must be done in a science-based, inclusive and transparent way,” she said.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management officials said they are still in the early stages of planning where to locate wind farms in the Gulf of Maine and have other means to assess environmental risks. They added that the federal government has already invested millions of dollars in studying the region’s marine ecosystems and has refined its process to identify locations for offshore wind.

“We are convinced that [our] approach, which uses the best available science and information, will identify the least conflicted areas that still provide the renewable energy capacity needed to meet the administration’s and state’s renewable energy goals,” said said Tracey Moriarty, spokeswoman for the office.

At a recent floating wind conference in Portland, Jocelyn Brown-Saracino, who oversees offshore wind policy at the US Department of Energy, said it’s time to start moving forward. forward with efforts to harness the vast wind power available in the Gulf of Maine. .

She said floating wind was “on its way to being a central pillar of our clean energy future”.

“Its promise is huge,” she said, “but we have a lot of work to do.”


David Abel can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davabel.