ROCKPORT — If a changing climate, whale protection regulations and, now, the as yet immeasurable threat arising from the emergence of the coronavirus aren’t enough to keep fishermen awake at night, the potential development of offshore power generation facilities in the Gulf of Maine should do the trick.
Earlier this month, the Maine Fishermen’s Forum opened with a day-long seminar on the state of wind energy development in the Northeast in general and the Gulf of Maine in particular. So far, there are no wind generators in the Gulf of Maine or pretty much anywhere else in New England. The exception is off Block Island, in Rhode Island, where five, 600-foot-tall wind turbines anchored by piles driven into the seabed about 4 miles offshore are anticipated to generate 125,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually.
Plans for a giant windfarm sited in the waters of Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod were abandoned in 2017. The proposed project known as Cape Wind was to cover some 24 square miles and was expected to generate 454 megawatts of electricity when complete. Plans for the wind farm called for 130 wind turbines with hubs 285 feet above the water and a total height of 440 feet. After years of controversy and litigation, the developer received all the permits needed to build the windfarm, but ultimately lost its contracts for the sale of the electricity and gave up on the project.
Currently, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for oversight of proposed offshore wind power projects. Fishermen at the forum heard from representatives of the New England Fishery Management Council that there is increasing interest in the possibility of developing floating windfarms in the Gulf of Maine. That, according to Michelle Bachman of the NEFMC, could make fishing “much stickier” than in fixed windfarms such as the roughly 60 large farms already in operation in off the coasts of Holland, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Currently, there are no large-scale floating windfarms in operation anywhere in the world, but the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine make the use of fixed wind turbines impractical. Several companies are studying various methods for deploying floating turbines that would be anchored to the sea floor and send electricity ashore through cables that might or might not be buried, according to Dick Akers, an engineer with the Portland-based Maine Marine Composites. The company is designing anchoring systems and other elements for floating turbines. He spoke to an auditorium crowded with fishermen, fisheries managers and scientists.
According to Akers, while it may seem counterintuitive, bigger turbines may well be more fishing friendly than smaller ones. By virtue of the size, they have to be installed farther apart and that could allow more room for fishermen to operate inside the borders of a windfarm.
With wind development in its early stages, NEFMC is working together with the Mid-Atlantic States Marine Fishery Council, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and fishing industry groups such as the Washington, D.C-based Responsible Offshore Development Alliance to study the environmental and habitat impacts of potential wind development.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about what the Gulf of Maine will look like” Bachman said. “We’re looking for a co-existence model” for the fishing industry within the farms.