Scheduled to expire on December 31, the credit's renewal is something Mainers should keep an eye on. After all, wind is an important resource in the Pine Tree State, as evidenced by last week's announcement that two Maine-based projects will receive a total of $8 million to further investigate deep-water offshore wind turbines.
One of those projects is based out of the University of Maine, which has been a leader in this field. The work of the university's Advanced Structures and Composites Center has already attracted international interest; the latest grant, from the US Department of Energy, will help fund a grid-connected offshore wind demonstration project and has the potential to bring $93 million to the state. The UMaine floating turbines will reach 300 feet above the ocean, and will be located off the shore of Monhegan Island. The other project, helmed by a private corporation called Statoil North America, will go off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, and will have a different structure. The Department of Energy grants are aimed at having a commercial offshore wind operation running by 2017.
MAKING A RAIL CONNECTION
The inaugural run of the Downeaster Amtrak train to Freeport and Brunswick on November 1 marked more than two years of construction (including 30 miles of railroad track, two station platforms, and dozens of road crossings) that cost almost $40 million.
Despite the fact that expanding the rail line northward had been discussed and anticipated for years (Downeaster service between Boston and Portland has been in place since 2001), operators were pleased to announce this month that ridership on this stretch of track is higher than even they expected. According to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the train carried an average of 190 people per day between Portland and Brunswick, nearly twice the initial estimates of 100 passengers daily.
But the success hasn't come without bumps in the road (or train track, as it were). The noise of the trains, both while running and idling, has drawn complaints from residents who live near the tracks. One state legislator says he will propose an anti-idling bill during the upcoming legislative session.
Meanwhile, in 2012, the Amtrak Downeaster service between Portland and Boston broke its own ridership record. A press release from NNEPRA said that ridership in fiscal year 2012 (July 2011-July 2012) exceeded that of the previous year by 4 percent and that of fiscal year 2005 by 111 percent. Noise or no noise, Mainers appear to be embracing rail transit (see this week's "Going Green").
VENUES TAKE A DOWNTURN
While Portland experienced no ebb in creativity, the city did see a decline in its venues of arts production. One of the Phoenix's most anticipated projects this time last year, the East Bayside all-ages venue 131 Washington, raised $5000 for renovations before being forced to stop hosting shows in the spring (though the space still functions as an art studio). The Dirigimus Collective of musicians and artists started booking shows on the outskirts of town in April, often with elaborate conceptual-art installations or musicians you wouldn't expect to find in Portland (Greg Ginn?), but never expected to last beyond the summer, and didn't. So went the story for Prime Artist Studios, the Thompson's Point rehearsal space that had long serviced the city's outer-limits rock projects. They kicked their tenants out in the fall — though rogue occupancies have persisted — as the building awaits demolition in favor of a $100 million hotel and arena.