In Praise of Maine Aqua Ventus
Thursday, February 16, 2017 1:00 PM
A group that calls itself Protect Monhegan is seeking to change existing legislation by introducing LR 1613, “An Act to Protect Monhegan.” The proposed legislation aims to move a University of Maine ocean test site from Monhegan’s back yard to someone else’s.
In a note that accompanied this letter, James Balano, who serves on the Monhegan Energy Task Force and the Monhegan Energy Planning Committee, wrote: “I’m a registered voter on Monhegan Island. I lobstered there during the ’70s and owned the 36-foot Freeda B. and fished 600 wooden traps.… I own a year-round house on the island but now spend a good part of the year at my wife’s house in Spruce Head … because she needs to be closer to medical attention. Three years ago I retired from the Merchant Marine. I was Master of the 48,000-ton Toyota car carrier Overseas Joyce for 20 years before retiring. My family is from Port Clyde and I’m a fifth-generation ship captain. My father edited a diary of my grandmother’s voyages with her husband on the four-mast schooner R. W. Hopkins; the book, “Log of the Skipper’s Wife,” was published by Down East Books. I first visited Monhegan as a four-year-old with my father in 1948. He lobstered in Port Clyde during the late ’40s and early ’50s. He took me with him to Monhegan to look at a lobster boat owned by Earl Fields, Jr. Earl fished on the island and operated the Monhegan ferry service with his father, Earl Fields, Sr. My family has deep ties to the St. George peninsula and the Georges Islands. Islands such as Thompson, Benner, Hart, Davis, Hupper and Teel are named after kin.… One hundred percent of Monhegan fishermen and a majority of year-round residents favor the use of the Monhegan test area by Maine Aqua Ventus for research and development in wind and wave power generating technology. Monhegan’s most famous living artist, whose house overlooks the test site, favors Maine Aqua Ventus. This is also true for the grandson (a well-known artist in his own right) of the great oil painter Abraham Bogdanove.”
The test site was selected by the state of Maine in legislation passed over eight years ago. If the bill is passed, UMO/Maine Aqua Ventus will forfeit a $39.9 million Department of Energy grant and Monhegan will lose community benefits crucial to sustainability as a year-round working community. Protect Monhegan is not the voice of the community.
A special to the Maine Sunday Telegram in Maine Voices, December 4, 2016, portrayed Monhegan as David poised in epic combat with Goliath. The author is a professional public relations consultant hired by Protect Monhegan. LR 1613 is crafted in language identical to the newspaper article. Words such as “sacred” and “iconic” evoke the sacrilegious. The fatuous comparison of Monhegan to Mount Katahdin suggests that a community of roughly 60 souls is striving to sustain a year-round community atop the highest peak in Maine.
This update of the biblical saga casts Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV) as Goliath. MAV is a company formed by UMO, Cianbro and Emera to test floating wind turbine platforms in a research and development site designated by the Maine State Legislature located in an area 2.5 miles south of the island of Monhegan. The platforms could revolutionize deep ocean wind energy and provide a huge economic driver for the state.
The project could be of immense benefit to Monhegan, but critics claim that the project will cause irreparable harm to the island. They claim the test site can be moved elsewhere without harm to the project, that they have a majority of year-round and seasonal residents on their side, and that MAV has not been sufficiently transparent. A close examination of history and facts demonstrate these claims are false. History and facts demonstrate that MAV has behaved in an exemplary way and occupies the moral and ethical high ground.
Let’s examine the facts:
• We find that benefits far outweigh perceived threats and will reduce or reverse man-made environmental impact both now and in the future.
• We find that for over three years, MAV has been in nearly weekly conversation with island residents duly designated by the town government (see www.monheganenergy.info).
• We find that the test site cannot be moved elsewhere without causing MAV to forfeit the grant.
• We find that the only official vote ever taken was in July 2016, with 31 to 1 registered voters in favor of negotiating with MAV for a community benefits agreement (www.monheganenergy.info/community-benefits-agreement-advisory-committee-cbac-formation-and-progress-to-date/).
The Maine Public Utilities Commission term sheet that was issued to MAV three years ago contains provisions for Monhegan community benefits consisting of a power and fiber-optic cable to the mainland grid and free generated power up to 340 megawatt hours a year for the 20 years of the project. The mainland grid is 35.8 times greener than existing diesel generated power on Monhegan. It is as green as any system that could be installed on the island. It is also free. A properly engineered cable could last decades beyond 20 years. The cable would be invisible except where it connects to Monhegan Plantation Power District. The wind turbines would disappear in 20 years or less. In other words, a cable would be a source of electricity with no noise and no emissions that is invisible to everyone on the island — no acres of solar panels, no building to house a battery bank, no wind turbine on Lighthouse Hill and no microwave tower. It also reduces the threat of an oil spill from stored diesel fuel and monthly deliveries to the island, which could result in the loss of our single source aquifer. Our diesel plant would become an emergency backup system requiring no more than a one-week supply of diesel. Those who prefer to remain off the grid are welcome.
Purchasing power at the commercial rate from MAV or CMP could reduce our power rate from the highest in the country, at $.70 per kWh, to something in the range of $.45 per kWh without any capital investment. Alternatively, MPPD could maintain existing rates for a period of time and upgrade our micro-grid to reduce costs of operation and maintenance and handle new winter heating options such as heat storage and heat pumps.
Those who are concerned about migratory birds and the view from wind turbines 2.5 miles out to sea favor an independent system with acres of solar panels and/or a wind turbine on the island itself. How do we comprehend this kind of cognitive dissonance — the simultaneous maintenance of beliefs diametrically opposed to each other? How can this be less harmful to the island? How do we even raise the money for a costly and possibly obsolete hybrid system at a time when federal grants for renewables are at risk? A cash option in lieu of a cable could defray the cost of a hybrid system. But a cable could outlast a diesel/solar/wind/battery system by decades and provide much cheaper power both immediately and over time while keeping pace with technological innovation. Some sort of cable/cash agreement could provide for a cable insurance trust if we negotiate for a cable of sufficient quality to satisfy underwriters.
This is why we have a community benefits committee to examine what is being offered. This is about informed choice. This is not about godliness, purity, righteousness, ideology or polemics.
The key issues are:
• Does the test site have to be exactly where it is and nowhere else?
• Does the project benefit Monhegan? Is it a real windfall — a lucky break?
• Do we want to explore the possibilities?
In each case, the answer is either Yes or Maybe.
The Monhegan test site was identified by the State Planning Office, pursuant to legislative direction, following many months of data collection and analysis, public information sessions, and input from local, state and federal officials and the public throughout the Maine coast, from York to Lubec. Ultimately, the state identified three areas as the best for possible development of the technology, and following discussions with Monhegan fishermen and residents UMaine selected that site as its research area.
Additionally, this area south of Monhegan is next to an ODAS buoy. This is station 44032 – Buoy E01 – Central Maine Shelf (www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=44032). The website receives the greatest number of pings at 4 a.m. when fishermen from the entire midcoast area are looking at the weather far offshore. Buoy E01 is one of 10 buoys owned by UMO School of Marine Sciences Physical Oceanography Group that has been in operation since 2001 providing met-ocean data on an hourly basis. It is precise information every hour for 15 years on wind direction, wind speed, wind gust, wave height, dominant wave period, atmospheric pressure, air temperature, water temperature, salinity, wind chill, wind speed at 24 feet, wind speed at 48 feet and ocean current at regular intervals from the surface to a depth of 295 feet.
They can compare this buoy data with the other nine buoys. This tells them that this site is the only place in state waters west of Monhegan that simulates deep ocean conditions.
Try it yourself and Google NERACOOS. Create a graph of any parameter for any given period of time. For example, create a graph or table of average monthly wind speed for 2016. During the summer months, average wind speed is 9 mph. It is 19 mph during winter. It is even more at 24 feet and 48 feet.
The Haliade (150-6MW) wind turbine is designed for all offshore conditions. What is being tested is the ability to perform to specification for sustained periods of time atop a moving platform. The cut-in speed for the blades to start turning is 6.7 mph. There is no other location in state waters where the blades would be turning as large a percentage of the time. All the other data is just as important if we want to know how the turbines will behave far offshore during hurricanes and violent winter storms.
In the words of a spokesperson from UMO, “This met-ocean data allows us to replicate actual conditions in a laboratory wind/wave basin at 1/50th scale and select a site near Castine with 1/8th wind/wave conditions before we test at full scale. The data used to design the full-scale unit and provide wind values for turbine selection, operating procedures and revenue projection is validated by third party so that banks will accept it as a prediction of revenue.”
When asked why MAV has not mounted its own public relations campaign the same person replied, “UMO and MAV have committed to the Monhegan Energy Task Force as a creation of Monhegan Island Plantation, to use them as a communication vehicle, and we have provided ongoing and continuous information. We feel that any information we share, or responses to misinformation, should be delivered to Monhegan first, and not the rest of the world through the press or via social media. We do not believe that op-ed stories are the right vehicle to respond. Most importantly, it is Monhegan’s decision and theirs alone.”
I maintain that we should be proud of our University and grateful for their dedication, forbearance and grace despite the insistence by some that this is “a conspiracy, not always among gentlemen, to defraud.” *
* Thomas Pynchon, “Gravity’s Rainbow”
James W. Balano III, Spruce Head & Monhegan