A worker awaits the word to power up VolturnUS, a prototype of an offshore wind turbine designed and built at the University of Maine, in Castine in this June 2013 file photo. Credit: Mario Moretto / BDN

The University of Maine has enlisted two prominent renewable energy developers to provide $100 million in funding for the school’s offshore wind demonstration project about two miles south of Monhegan Island. 

The project, which has been in the works for years, is expected to be completed in 2023. It will be 14 miles offshore and consist of a single concrete floating platform that supports a 10–12 megawatt wind turbine, the university said Wednesday. 

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The two companies that are providing funding for the project are Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corp., and RWE Renewables, the second largest company in offshore wind globally. Under a joint venture called New England Aqua Ventus LLC, they will also lead the construction, deployment and operations of the turbine.

The university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center will handle the design, engineering, research and development for the project and monitor it once it’s operating.

In addition to generating electricity that will be sent to the Maine grid, the project is meant to help the university evaluate the floating technology so as to demonstrate how future offshore wind projects can coexist with other marine activities, University of Maine spokesperson Margaret Nagle said.

“An immediate priority for the new development team is to engage with the fishing industry, other maritime users, coastal communities and other interested parties on how to ensure this new renewable energy source can optimally provide economic growth to Maine and work with maritime industries,” Nagle said.

The University of Maine has been researching offshore wind technology for more than a decade. Working with the construction firm Cianbro, it built and deployed a scaled-down offshore wind turbine in 2013 with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, according to Nagle.

But the university’s efforts turned into a political football during the two terms of former Gov. Paul LePage, who did not embrace a separate offshore wind project that the Norwegian company Statoil initially tried to develop in Maine before relocating it to Scotland amid regulatory uncertainty. Critics accused LePage of helping to scuttle the project at the cost of jobs and economic development, while his administration said that his efforts would allow the university to compete with other wind energy projects.

The university’s project has also prompted concerns that it could hurt fishing in the waters around Monhegan.

This week, Gov. Janet Mills, the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation and Daniel Simmons, the U.S. assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, all praised the arrangement on Wednesday.

“We are pleased to see the University of Maine continuing to make progress and that new private sector partners recognize the great potential of this project,” Simmons said in a statement.

“This new public-private partnership joins world-class offshore wind developers and the University of Maine, and puts us on track to be home to the nation’s first floating offshore wind project, reflecting the major economic growth opportunity of the clean energy economy,” Mills said.

Mills also said the developers of the project have shown a “strong commitment to work collaboratively with Maine fishermen to protect and support our traditional industries as we chart a greener future for our state.”