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Debate heating up over the site of Maine's future wind port

A rendering of Sprague Energy's latest plan to repurpose its Mack Point terminal into a site that the state of Maine could use for a floating offshore wind port.
Courtesy of Sprague Energy
A rendering of Sprague Energy's latest plan to repurpose its Mack Point terminal into a site that the state of Maine could use for a floating offshore wind port.

The debate over where the state of Maine should site a Midcoast port facility to serve a floating offshore wind project is expected to ramp up this summer.

Maine officials are preparing permit applications for a wind port on Sears Island. But Sprague Energy, which owns the nearby Mack Point terminal in Searsport, is making its own major push.

Sprague developed a new plan last spring that it believes shows how the Mack Point terminal could be repurposed to accommodate the port facility — and addresses the concerns that the state had previously flagged with the site.

The latest design calls for 100 acres dedicated to the delivery, assembly and deployment of floating wind turbines, said Jim Therriault, vice president of materials handling for Sprague.

Sprague would move some of its existing activities to another part of the terminal, opening up enough space for massive floating foundations to be assembled and deployed to sea, Therriault said.

And Therriault said under the new design, the initial dredging requirements of 500,000 cubic yards have been reduced significantly — a major sticking point when the state of Maine initially considered Mack Point as a potential site for the wind port.

"When you look at our revised plan and it being 61,000 instead of 500,000, I think that dredge issue goes away," Therriault said. "That’s a minor quantity of dredging."

Some local advocacy groups and the Friends of Sears Island, a volunteer non-profit that manages the conservation area, say they believe the island should be preserved. The Sears Island plan calls for the clearing of more wetlands than the updated Mack Point plan, they argue.

And Therriault believes that could create more time-consuming permitting hurdles for Maine.

"This is already an industrial site. There's only one small area that's wet that has trees on it," he said. "Most of it is land that's currently in use or recently been in use."

The state, however, has its own coalition of environmental and conservation groups, the Chamber of Commerce and labor organizations that support the Sears Island plan.

The state already owns Sears Island and would not need to lease the land from Sprague Energy, state officials have said.

Maine Port Authority Executive Director Matt Burns said the state has met with Sprague and has considered the company's latest proposal.

"We're confident that it doesn't work, and the concepts that we have are superior to it," Burns said in a recent interview. "Not just from an efficiency and optimization standpoint but from a cost standpoint too."

The state's Sears Island plan calls for port that's purpose-built for the kind of floating offshore wind industry that Maine officials envision, Burns added.

Still, the DOT is responsible for presenting an analysis of alternative sites for the wind port, which will include Mack Point, Burns said. The analysis is in draft stage and will be made public before the state applies for site permits by the end of the summer, he added.

Sprague, which has been accepting the deliveries of land-based wind turbines at the terminal for the last 20 years, will host tours of the Mack Point facility next week.