USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel and staff recently organized an important visit to Maine for a high-level worldwide organization known as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The group, headquartered in Paris, France, established formal links with USDA Rural Development in Washington, DC over a year ago to review how renewable energy projects are supporting rural economic development in the United States. The six OECD officials on this mission represent the countries of Italy, Germany, Norway, Scotland, and the United States.
USDA Rural Development has invested $16.05 million in renewable energy projects in Maine over the last several years, including funding for the Fox Island Wind turbines on Vinalhaven.
USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “Maine is an ideal state for the OECD visit as we are leading the way in unique renewable energy research and development projects which have immense potential to support our state’s rural areas and economic future.”
The first stop while in Maine was to the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (AEWC) where the group heard from Dr. Habib Dagher, Director of the Center and of the DeepCwind Consortium.
Dr. Dagher shared information on efforts by the Consortium to develop a five-phase plan to site a floating wind farm that would generate up to 5,000 MW of electricity beginning in the year 2030. During their visit to the University they also toured the Laboratory and were welcomed by University of Maine President Dr. Paul Ferguson.
The next visit was to the Maine Governor’s Office to meet with leaders to discuss the state’s energy strategy and future. OECD officials met with Kenneth Fletcher, Director for Energy Independence and Security for the Governor‘s Office; Thomas Welsh, Chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission; and David Littell, Commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
The Organization also heard from the Ocean Renewable Power Company to learn about its efforts to harness ocean and river currents to produce clean, predictable electricity to power homes and businesses. The Maine Tidal Energy Project will begin in Cobscook Bay off Washington County. This could become the first grid-connected tidal energy generated system installed in the country.
OECD’s Administrator, Rural and Regional Development Unit, Dr. Raffaele Trapasso, of Italy said, “Maine is part of an international network working to assess the potential of renewable energy to contribute to rural development. Global investment in renewable energy was $240 billion in 2010 (1100% increase compared with 2002 despite the financial crisis. At this level of investment it is crucial to get public policy right to maximize job creation and other benefits for rural areas. The OECD in conjunction with USDA will develop a report encompassing 15 case studies that will suggest good policy approaches that can be adopted by national and state government.”
Maine was the organization’s first stop in the United States on this important mission held to examine renewable energy projects that are moving the United States toward greater energy independence, environmental sustainability, and increased economic development in rural areas.
While in the US, the OECD will also review renewable energy projects in VT, IL, IA, KY, OR, TN and Washington, DC. The OECD has members from 34 countries around the world including the United States. Its mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.