Statoil’s departure should not obscure all the progress of this renewable energy resource.
by Paul Williamson
PORTLAND — There has been a lot said about the terminated Statoil Offshore Wind Project in past weeks with months of additional comment leading up to this period.
Yes, it is a loss to our state to lose the opportunity to build business relationships with a global economic powerhouse.
However, at this point we need to focus on the positive. We do have a local team developing some fantastic technology that could lead to a new energy-economy revolution.
Our state cannot afford to lose two offshore wind opportunities. We need to rally the support of the business and political communities to ensure the Aqua Ventus project has the opportunity to achieve its full potential.
The loss of Statoil to our local economy is substantial. I had hoped we could maintain support for multiple offshore wind projects in Maine.
It is important to reflect on what has happened and learn our lessons from this episode. We still have opportunities to attract renewable energy investment to our state and we can learn lessons and improve the climate here in Maine.
Ironically, those who opposed the Statoil project because they do not like alternative energy may have driven away a substantial opportunity for Maine companies to enter the offshore oil and gas industry through the Statoil work in Newfoundland. The opportunity for local businesses to work with a global leader like Statoil opens doors to many unforeseen business prospects. Sometimes unintended consequences are the most painful to deal with.
At this point we must look forward. The Aqua Ventus team is still making important strides on their project development. This project represents some of the most advanced thinking in material use. The Aqua Ventus approach could dramatically reduce the cost while increasing the local economic benefit.
There have been calls for the release of additional information about the project. At some point the project will need to provide additional details as it is seeking financial support from public sources.
However, the public also must be patient and allow careful consideration of how and when that information is released to protect intellectual property concerns. At this point there is no harm done by allowing the PUC and the Aqua Ventus team ample time to work with careful consideration. In addition, as the project moves forward greater information will be available regarding opportunities for Maine businesses to participate in the future development of this technology.
There are those who would argue that the investment in offshore wind and renewable energy is too expensive for our state.
I am reminded of a time earlier in my life when I studied Scottish industrial history. At the beginning of the 20th century Scotland was the world leader in heavy steel ship construction. They had perfected building techniques to produce the highest quality ships in the world. Efforts to introduce light steel and aluminum manufacturing were shunned by industry leaders as unnecessary investments.
But by the 1930’s transportation by large steel ships was in decline. The advent of auto and air transportation from 1930-50 reduced the need for passenger lines. Riveted shipbuilding was replaced by welding technologies. Because they did not reinvest in new technology Scotland is still struggling to recover from the loss of their steel manufacturing industry.
Maine’s heritage industries are in decline. There are some aspects of new technology development that are advancing and sustaining some of our industries. Yet Maine cannot rely on our heritage industries without new investments.
Our world is in the midst of an energy-economy revolution. This revolution will take decades to play out. If we don’t make investments now to be part of the new energy economy, Maine will find itself licking the wounds of economic loss in the same way Scotland has done for the past half century.
We have two opportunities before us. The first is to support the Aqua Ventus project so it will continue to advance and provide a technological revolution created in Maine.
The second is to do everything we can to encourage additional investment in renewable energy in Maine. We need to consider how we can attract the next investments in offshore wind. We also need to build upon policies that keep Maine open for business to attract onshore wind, offshore wind and tidal energy development.
Let us not stick our heads in the sand wishing for better days in the past. It is time for Maine to stand and lead.
About the author Paul Williamson is the director of the Maine Ocean & Wind Initiative.