SEARSPORT — Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Maine Port Authority made a presentation Nov. 30 to the Select Board on a potential project that, if developed, would put Searsport in the forefront of offshore wind development.

Back in March, Gov. Janet Mills announced her office was examining Searsport’s Mack Point Terminal as a possible hub for the emerging offshore wind industry. With its deep harbor, existing rail infrastructure and available acreage, the Searsport location has a lot to offer, according to the state.

The announcement came in the face of increasing demand for offshore wind energy and related port facilities since the Biden administration announced a new federal target of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.

Presenting the recently completed feasibility study to the board were Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note and Matt Burns, director of Ports and Marine Transportation and interim executive director for Maine Port Authority.

While both Van Note and Burns said the study was preliminary and more environmental, design and stakeholder outreach work would be necessary, three sites were identified as having potential for development: Mack Point, GAC Industrial Park and a portion of state-owned land on Sears Island.

The wind port hub concept would support two facilities to fabricate floating wind turbines at either research or commercial scale.

Burns said the state had already submitted lease applications to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine.

The Searsport wind port hub, Burns noted, is a different project than the single wind turbine on Monhegan that is currently being pursued by a private developer with federal funding.

 

Source: MaineDOT feasibility study

The Sears Island concept would consist of about 40 acres of development on the state’s transportation parcel on the western side of the island. Sixty acres would be developed if the project were to be ramped up for full commercial-scale production supporting up to 1,000 Megawatts, or roughly about 100 floating wind turbines, with a total estimated cost of $184 million.

The floating hulls would be made primarily of concrete and steel, according to Burns. They would be loaded onto a floating platform, then submerged to allow the foundation to become buoyant and float on its own. The platform would then go back to the berth for installation of the wind turbine generator. Final stages of production would include tugboats towing the floating turbines to the installation site.

Essentially, Burns said, all three of these sites working together could provide a lot of utility as an offshore wind terminal at the port of Searsport. “This would bring a tremendous amount of versatility to the operation,” he said.

The terminal could also offer support to other offshore wind projects planned for the East Coast. Being able to transfer things back and forth by barge, Burns said, is “very appealing to us,” because components that make up these turbines are too large to be transported by truck or rail.

While the transportation parcel on Sears Island would be developed, Burns said, the eastern side of the island could also see improvements. He mentioned a visitor and education center, additional parking, restrooms, public water access and trail improvements.

Board Chairman Doug Norman suggested bringing Maine Ocean School, based in Searsport, into the mix for workforce training. “It would be a good future use for that (proposed facility on Sears) island,” he added.

Burns agreed, saying it would be a wise decision and added that Norman’s comment raised a much larger question of workforce development across the state. “The challenge we have in the state is how are we going to get enough individuals to come work on these things.”

Town Manager James Gillway said all the eastern states are starting to get on board to do offshore wind ports, but noted that all are fixed-bottom sites. “This site that is being proposed is giving us a differential advantage,” he said. “We are looking at building floating sites, with the only other floating sites proposed being on the West Coast.

Another key point, Gillway said, is once all the fixed-bottom sites that are able to support wind are filled, they will have to start developing floating wind turbines. “Cape Wind down in Massachusetts has gained a lot of unpopularity because it is able to be seen,” he said. “What the state of Maine is doing with floating wind, getting it over the horizon might become more desirable than all these ports developing fixed-bottom sites.”

Select Board member Linda Payson asked about potential future uses of the facility once the 100 wind turbines are built. While saying he did not know, Burns added that right now there is no appetite for a gas and oil facility, with the primary focus of renewable energy currently being offshore wind.

“This is a tremendous investment in our community and our future,” Payson said. “I think it’s a great project, but before we go putting tons and tons of money into something that in 25 years from now people are going to be (saying) wind is so passe,” she said.

Burns agreed, but said, “We don’t have any idea what is going to happen past the research array.”