MOUNT DESERT — As Maine lobster fishermen are working to navigate regulations for the safety of right whales and the effects of global warming on the industry, they are now being asked to share their territory with wind turbines.
“There’s so many different reasons to oppose it,” said Jack Merrill, a resident of Mount Desert and a member of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op who has made his living as a lobster fisherman for the last 45 years. “They’re humongous. They just dwarf everything we’ve ever seen on the water. Every time they come out with a new plan, they just keep getting bigger and bigger.”
In an effort to meet Maine’s requirement of 80 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and the goal of 100 percent by 2050, there is a project being proposed to research offshore wind energy by installing up to 12 floating wind turbines in a 16-square-mile area, 20-40 miles off the coast.
To put that into perspective, the land area of Swan’s Island is 12 square miles.
Recently, fisherman Jason Joyce, a resident of Swan’s Island, circulated a petition in support of LD 101, a bill introduced before the Legislature this January that prohibits offshore wind energy development in the first three miles from shore, also called state waters.
“It prevents permitting of wind development in state waters and prevents permitting of cables/equipment from offshore wind development in federal waters from being installed in state waters as well,” Joyce wrote in an email to the Islander.
Wording in LD 101 states, under the bill, the term “offshore wind energy development project” includes community-based offshore wind energy projects, deep-water offshore wind energy pilot projects, offshore wind energy demonstration projects and offshore wind power projects, which are all categories of projects currently authorized by law.
In addition to LD 101, another bill is being presented by Gov. Janet Mills that would place a 10-year moratorium on any wind energy development project within state waters. According to Rep. Genevieve McDonald, LD101 has been referred to the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology and the Governor’s bill is still being drafted.
While Gov. Mills is proposing a 10-year moratorium on development in state waters, she also announced in Nov. 2020 plans for what is being called the nation’s first offshore wind research array. According to the announcement, the research array is part of the ongoing Maine Offshore Wind Initiative announced by Governor Mills in 2019.
In October, the State received a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency for the Initiative to support long-term planning for offshore wind with fishery, business, environmental and science representatives, as well as assessing port and infrastructure needs and evaluating the supply chain, manufacturing, and workforce opportunities.
The state intends to file an application for the research array with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an organization that oversees renewable energy development in federal waters, which begin more than three miles off the coast.
“The Governor’s 10-year moratorium fails to look beyond the near future,” wrote Joyce. “LD 101 is supported by the coastal communities to defend the lobster fishery and the ecosystem from the offshore industrialization of the Gulf of Maine by multinational corporations with nothing to lose. They are seeking to profit from large federal funds/grants.
“This will put a stop to those projects that seek to displace Maine’s lobstermen and women as well as address the offshore site being promoted by the Mills administration. The offshore research site (a 16-square-mile area) off midcoast/ southern Maine waters was overwhelmingly rejected by the Lobster Advisory Counsel in a unanimous vote to oppose all offshore wind farms. All permitted sites displace fishermen for at least a third of a mile around the 600- to 700-foot windmills.”
In a frequently asked questions webpage put out by the Governor’s energy office regarding the proposed research site, it says the state intends to partner with New England Aqua Ventus – a joint venture of Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation, and RWE Renewables, one of the world’s largest offshore wind companies – to develop the research array. Outside of using the semi-submersible concrete hull, called the VolturnUS, designed by the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, Mitsubishi is a company based in Japan and RWE Renewables is based in Germany.
“The proposed 12 10,000–ton floating wind farms will utilize chain links the size of pickup trucks, with lengths of chain that are seven times the depth of the surrounding waters,” Joyce explained. “As these floating behemoths move in the wind and tide, the huge links of chain will drag back and forth across the ocean bottom, destroying and crushing untold sea life and offshore coral unfortunate enough to be within its range of destructive force.”
While the bills proposed allow for some say in what happens in Maine’s state waters, ultimately fishermen whose licenses grant them the right to make a living in federal waters may not have a say in what gets installed there.
“A couple months ago, there was a developer scouting in Downeast Maine. Both of these pieces of legislation would prevent projects such as that one. I will be voting in support of both bills. Neither of these bills impacts projects in federal waters, as that is outside of the jurisdiction of the Legislature, said McDonald in an online message.
“By removing thousands of acres of bottom from fishing access, these turbines threaten the economic health of Maine’s second largest industry (lobstering alone has an estimated value of a billion dollars a year), at the same time forcing a severe social impact for coastal communities,” wrote Merrill in a statement on Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance. “In fact, they would have a negative impact on all three of Maine’s coastal economic engines. The uniqueness of Maine’s coast brings millions of tourists every year. A blow to the lobster industry would be a serious blow to that uniqueness. For the summer resident yachting population (large taxpayers) who now enjoy the freedom of today’s open oceans, the hundreds of platforms we are now being told are coming (“you can’t stop them”) will be an eyesore and pose serious hazards to navigation. We are living in difficult and unusual times.
Today Maine’s economy is suffering. Where would we have been in 2020 without the fisheries, our summer population and tourism?”