The following blog was written by Monhegan First Assessor Tara Hire and summarizes the timeline of the Maine Aqua Ventus project and discussions about offshore wind around Monhegan dating back to 2008.
Many people are wondering how a test site for wind turbines came to be designated off the coast of Monhegan. After looking back over notes from the past six years, I have attempted to create an accurate timeline of how the project progressed from 2008 to present.
Ocean Energy Task Force
In 2008, Governor Baldacci established the Ocean Energy Task Force (OETF) as a strategy to evaluate and promote alternatives to the increasing cost of energy in the state of Maine.
In the first of those efforts, OETF members recommended that the Maine Legislature vote to create a set of ocean energy demonstration sites in state waters that would be available for research and development purposes.
Initial community meetings
The State of Maine designated a team to lead the selection of potential test sites along the entire coast of Maine. Community meetings were held by the State of Maine on Monhegan in August and October of 2009. University of Maine representatives participated in these meetings. Notices for meetings were sent to all land owners and posted around town. In addition, state agency staff met directly with several Monhegan fishermen on the island to discuss the potential site and how it related to fishing activity.
The fishermen were given worksheets to help determine placement of the site so as to have the least impact on the fishing grounds. Monhegan has a limited lobster conservation zone therefore fishermen in this zone cannot fish outside of these waters and the season is limited to October 1-June 7.
Meetings were well attended, people sent in comments during the public comment period and several fishermen sent in their worksheets.
Test site designation
The legislation in 2009 stated that up to two turbines or two wave energy converters, a maximum of 25 megawatts (MW) of power produced, and one transmission cable per test site were the allowable limits. This is still true to date. For more details about this legislation visit: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/chappdfs/PUBLIC270.pdf
By December 2009, a list of seven potential test sites had been narrowed down to three and the Monhegan Island site joined sites at Boon and Damariscove Islands as the state’s designated areas for ocean energy research and development. Monhegan, however, held a special designation in that it was for the exclusive use of the University of Maine and its DeepCwind Consortium. In January 2010, University of Maine representatives met with representatives of Monhegan Plantation and the Monhegan Plantation Power District via phone.
The University has held community informational meetings several times over the past five years. The initial phase of the UMaine project, as the community understood it early on, would be a smaller scale (1:3) unit, it would not produce energy, would not be cabled and would only be deployed for a few months at a time. The platform to be tested would be 1/3 scale (later downsized to 1/8 scale); primarily to test the platform construction not for energy production or turbine testing. In December of 2012 the University received a new DOE award for full-scale testing. On January 16, 2013 the University participated in a Tandberg video call (facilitated by assessor Chris Cash) and updated Monhegan on two points. First that the scale model to be launched in June of 2013 would not likely go to Monhegan, and second that the new DOE grant would allow full-scale testing with electrical generation and potential to provide electricity to Monhegan.
Project scope changes
The significant change in scope of the project for the community became more evident in July 2013. Changing from testing a 1/8 scale turbine to two 6MW turbines on full-size platforms, a cable, and the offer of electricity to Monhegan.
With the help of the Island Institute, Plantation and Monhegan Plantation Power District (MPPD) officials organized a meeting on Monhegan with the University in late August. The presentation at that time presented the larger 12 MW project consisting of two turbines on floating platforms that would produce electricity with the potential for a cable to Monhegan, connecting Monhegan to electricity generated by the turbines and linking Monhegan to the mainland.
The University at the urging of MPPD and Plantation officials came out and presented again in September 2013.
Formation of METF, community engagement, and PUC term sheet review
The change in scope was so dramatic that Plantation officials and MPPD trustees scrambled to inform the public of the change, organize a task force to research the pros and cons of the project as well as keep Monhegan at the forefront of discussions around the project. The Monhegan Energy Task Force (METF) convened its first meeting in late October and was made an official task force of the Plantation at the January 2014 assessors meeting. To learn more about METF and the mission of the group go to http://www.monheganenergy.info/monhegan-energy-task-force/
Along with the change in scope of the physical project, the organization of the entity moving the project forward also went through a change. The University of Maine formed a partnership with Prime Technologies, LLC – and two other general partners Cianbro and Emera named Maine Aqua Ventus I GP LLC (MAV).
MAV submitted a proposal for a power purchase contract to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) at the end of August. METF, a group of about 13 year-round and summer residents with varying viewpoints, worked together to make some tough decisions, come to consensus, and form comprehensive concerns and comments to the MPUC which they offered during a December 2013 public comment period.
During that time, METF arranged for a webinar with the MPUC to learn about the process for public comment on the term sheet. This information was disseminated at a Special Town meeting in December 2013, online, through email and on Facebook.
METF arranged for people on and off island to attend a webinar with MAV in December 2013, to learn more about the project and, creating an opportunity for more people to voice their concerns and have questions answered.
In December 2013 METF hired a lawyer, Jerry Crouter with the Firm of Drummond Woodsum of Portland, to advise the task force in legal issues concerning the role of both the Plantation and MPPD in regards to the MAV offshore wind project. Jerry Crouter has experience in legal issues regarding municipalities and public utilities. Jerry Crouter reviewed the comments and made the official submission to the MPUC.
In January 2014, the MPUC held a hearing that was attended by several METF members. The commissioners accepted the MAV term sheet for a long term power purchase contract with a vote 2 to 1.
METF communication with MAV and MOU development
At the beginning of November 2013, MAV made the commitment to Monhegan to meet every week and to keep Monhegan involved in the conversation as the wind turbine project progressed. Since then we have met weekly to discuss concerns, review scientific studies and figure out challenges. The Island Institute facilitates these meetings as a third party, organizes and facilitates community webinars with MAV and state agency staff, and assists with general research and communications for METF.
METF has been working with MAV to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish communication expectation and establish Monhegan as an important stakeholder in the project.
METF has been researching Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) in order to mitigate negative impacts of the project to Monhegan including the environment and residents. A CBA will need to be voted on at a town meeting before it is accepted. More information on CBAs is available on the Island Institute’s website here.
METF wrote a survey to gauge the greater community’s sentiment to the project. That survey was mailed to electric rate payers and tax payers at the end of March 2014, approximately 200 surveys were mailed. METF received 108 surveys back.
The survey asked the following: We would like to gain a better understanding of the sentiment of the community in regards to the project in general. Based on your current understanding of the project, are you: very supportive, supportive, undecided, opposed, very opposed?
The survey results were:
- Very supportive – 40
- Supportive – 20
- Between supportive and undecided – 1
- Undecided – 12
- Between undecided and opposed – 1
- Opposed – 11
- Very opposed – 16
Overall, 58.3 percent of respondents supported the project, 29.6 percent of respondents opposed the project, and 11 percent were undecided.
The survey results are not a definitive vote about the project. The survey results help to inform METF on how to focus their energies. Based on these results METF is continuing to engage with MAV and working to negotiate the best possible outcome for Monhegan. METF continues to look at all view points and options in regards to benefits. For instance despite the survey results indicating positive support for MPPD receiving power from the turbines and Monhegan being connected to the mainland grid, METF is working with MPPD to continue their multi-year effort to develop locally-owned renewable energy generation.
Reimbursement for METF engagement
In April 2014, at the annual town meeting, the town approved Article 46 “To see if the Plantation will vote to accept funds from Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV); said funds to be maintained in an dedicated account to be used to support the work of Monhegan Energy Task Force (METF) in carrying out its mission and to compensate the Frist Assessor, for work done in connection with his/her role as First Assessor on METF. Withdrawals from said account shall be made in such amounts and at such times as the Board of Assessors may determine in their sound discretion.”
It is the view of METF that neither the Plantation nor MPPD should bear the financial cost of any part of this project. The additional work for the First Assessor and the MPPD bookkeeper as well as any professional fees, lawyers, engineers, consultants that are incurred as part of Monhegan’s efforts to effectively engage in a dialogue with MAV are therefore reimbursed by MAV. Reimbursement for these efforts does not imply support for the MAV offshore wind project; and MAV has not asked for support as a stipulation of providing these funds. In the effort to remain transparent, summaries of activities that have been reimbursed will be posted to the website. Individuals may ask to see more details at any time. Precedence for such an arrangement exists in Deepwater Wind’s offshore wind project that is proposed off of Block Island, Rhode Island and in First Wind’s land-based project in Oakfield, Maine. In these cases, as in MAV’s, the developer recognizes the local community’s need for additional support in order to fully understand and respond to what is being proposed.
The past five years have shown us that plans made by the State, The University, and now Maine Aqua Ventus have both significant implications for our community as well as the potential to change. It is incredibly important for members of the Monhegan community, year-round residents, summer residents, and short-term visitors alike to stay informed and effectively voice their concerns. As of yet there is no database of emails and addresses to reach out to every person who loves Monhegan. We are asking interested individuals stay up to date by visiting our website, Facebook site and signing up for our newsletter (sign up form available in the “Get Updates” section of the Monhegan Energy Info home page).