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Norwegian energy experts invited to tour Cianbro plant

When planning to build a large-scale floating wind farm in the Gulf of Maine, it’s good to draw on experience. And there is only one company in the world that has experience with deep-water wind turbines, Cianbro Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue said Tuesday.

Company executives from Norwegian oil and energy firm Statoil, which installed the world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine earlier this year about six miles off the southwest coast of Norway, spent Monday at the University of Maine and toured Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility on Tuesday.

“We should capitalize on their knowledge and [40 years of] experience in offshore energy and team up with them to take the next significant steps” to get Maine’s wind farm project under way, Vigue said.

The ultimate goal is the development of an estimated $20 billion offshore wind farm that has the potential to create 15,000 Maine-based manufacturing, construction and installation jobs over the next 10 to 20 years, according to state officials and project supporters.

“They’re the only ones with deep-water wind experience in the world,” Vigue said, describing Statoil’s Hywind project in the North Sea as impressive.

Vigue, along with local and state leaders and representatives of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, believes that Maine can be a leader in the newly forming renewable energy field.

UMaine was awarded an $8 million federal grant last month from the U.S. Department of Energy for wind energy research, with up to $5 million more possibly on the way. Those funds will be used to develop offshore wind and deep-water energy technologies. Four pilot sites off the coast of Maine are under consideration.

“Somebody is going to develop this technology — it’s too important — and we have an opportunity to do it here first,” said Steve Abbott, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

A partnership among UMaine and area companies such as Cianbro, Lane Construction, GE and Bath Iron Works, who all have skilled employees ready and willing to work, would be an incredible team when combined with the experience of Statoil, Abbott said.

“When you put together a team like that, we have an opportunity to lead the world,” he said.

That ready-to-go partnership “sets us apart from everybody else,” Vigue said.

State and university officials and business leaders visited Norway in September to inspect Statoil’s Hywind project, and during that visit Gov. John Baldacci and UMaine officials signed an agreement with the Stavanger, Norway-based company to conduct deep-water testing of commercial wind turbine technology in the Gulf of Maine.

After visiting the Eastern Manufacturing Facility in Brewer, Vigue, Baldacci and the Statoil officials flew to Vinalhaven to tour the new land-based Fox Islands Wind facility constructed by Cianbro.

Afterward, the group toured Bath Iron Works and ended the day with a dinner and reception hosted by Baldacci at the Blaine House in Augusta.

In addition to Maine, Statoil officials are considering investing in other areas of the world. Baldacci said the visit from the Norwegians was primarily to showcase what Maine has to offer.

“We’re the first ones to visit with them and have an agreement with them,” he said. “They’re the ones we want to do business with.”

The turbine that Statoil is using for its Hywind project is made by Siemens, Baldacci said, adding he believes a Maine company, such as Bangor’s GE, could make those components and possibly could do it more affordably.

“We have that ability right here in Maine,” he said. “We’re very well situated for it.”

Once the wind farm is in place, the renewable energy could be sold to all of New England and New York, Vigue and Abbott said.

The investment in the state would help Maine break free from its dependence on foreign oil and go far to lift the spirits of Mainers who are dealing with a discouraging economy, Vigue said.

“It’s about expanding the economic base [of the state] and expanding jobs,” he said. “It would be a huge economic generator for the state of Maine. It would attract investments.

“I think Maine can be a leader,” Vigue said.

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