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News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 7, 2013
Maine Maritime Academy gives wind project update

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by Sharon Bray

Wind energy from a testing project should come ashore from the harbor starting next month, according to Maine Maritime Academy President Bill Brennan, speaking to town officers at the monthly “town-gown” meeting January 23.

The DeepCwind Consortium Research Program, which includes MMA and the University of Maine, will position its second “prototype wind turbine” near the entrance to Castine’s harbor “sometime in March,” Brennan said.

The data buoy collected “baseline information” last year and determined that “Castine was the only site that met all… research program needs,” according to a U.S. Department of Energy draft environmental assessment report.

According to Paul Mercer, assistant to MMA’s president, the turbine will be about 1,000 feet offshore from Dyce Head.

Power generated by the test turbine will travel through cables to a small building on shore and across private property to a Central Maine Power connection.

The windmill will be one-eighth the size of a future version to be tested offshore at Monhegan Island. Because researchers want to test the smaller model, they looked for a location with wind and water conditions proportionate in scale. The Castine model will be towed to Monhegan for a trial period before a full-size wind generator goes into the island’s test area.

Brennan told selectmen the working wind turbine will rise approximately 60 feet above the water on a floating concrete platform. MMA’s tugboat will tow it down the Penobscot River to the test location.

When the time comes to tow the turbine to Castine and again when researchers retrieve the structure, they will notify Maine Marine Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard, who can “alert fishermen about towing operations” and tell them to get their gear out of the way.

The whole system, including anchors, lines and cables will take up an area in which all fishing activity will be forbidden during the experiment.

“The project is anticipated to only minimally reduce or limit lobstering or commercial fishing activities,” states the DOE’s draft report.

MMA staff have “developed a navigation safety plan for the project” to keep boaters from hanging up on the project’s moorings.

The environmental assessment covers potential impact on historic, plant and tree, wildlife and human elements.

Researchers found no shipwrecks in the area. Project installers will trim some brush for the power transmission line but will cut no trees.

The bat detection device placed on the lighthouse tower last year counted “797 bat call sequences.” The report states that some bats might fly offshore to nearby islands, which could put a small number at risk from the turbine.

Plans call for “boat based visual surveys” and a web camera to record any bird or bat strikes.

Among people, the visual impact would be on a few houses north of the lighthouse, according to the report.

The tower will have two white lights about 20 feet from the platform and a higher red light for aviation precaution. The flashing white lights are stated to be visible all the way around and for “at least six miles.” The lights are not included in the assessment of “visual impact.”

Against a background of noise from “waves, wind, bubbles and spray, marine life … commercial and recreational” boat traffic, researchers write that most of the time the sound of the turbine will be “barely audible to people on shore.”

Project participants think it will take about five days to install the equipment and about the same amount of time to remove it in late June or early July. They say an “extreme weather event” could result in earlier removal of the floating platform and turbine.

Brennan said he had received few comments on the project from Castine residents.