Mills signs offshore wind compromise, bans wind projects in state waters

AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills signed a bill into law today that prohibits offshore wind projects in state waters.

The legislation came as a compromise between two bills, one proposed by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) that would have barred the state from permitting any offshore wind projects, and another that would have created a 10-year moratorium on wind projects in state waters, which extend 3 miles offshore.

The latter was backed by Mills, but was met with pushback from the fishing industry, which has been vehemently opposed to wind project development in the Gulf of Maine.
Up to 75 percent of the state’s commercial lobster fishing happens in state waters and this new law backs the state’s priority in locating offshore wind projects in federal waters, according to the Mills’ administration.

“Maine is uniquely prepared to grow a strong offshore wind industry, create good-paying trades and technology jobs around the state, and reduce our crippling dependence on harmful fossil fuels,” Mill said in a statement. “This legislation cements in law our belief that these efforts should occur in Federal waters farther off our coast through a research array that can help us establish the best way for Maine to embrace the vast economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind.”

The Governor applauded the compromise and bipartisan support for the bill, which she believed demonstrated that offshore wind and Maine’s fishing industry could coexist with the state’s renewable energy goals.

Faulkingham, a lobsterman himself, previously told the Islander that he was happy with how the bill, which has a carve out for the Monhegan turbine project, turned out and said it was basically the same as his idea, just with some more exemptions.

The new law also creates an offshore wind research consortium that will research local and regional impacts of offshore wind projects. An advisory board would oversee the development and execution of that research strategy and would have members who are from the commercial lobster and fishing industry.

Although the state would only have direct power over its waters, it will also have some say on how projects in federal waters tie to the mainland, such as running transmission and utility lines.

Before any connections are approved, the Governor’s energy office would need to complete a strategic plan to inform development that minimizes conflict with existing maritime industries and preserves existing maritime jobs. The office also would need to review any applicable laws and rules to determine if there are protections for Maine’s coastal resources. The advisory board would need to look at potential research questions for the consortium.

Members of the fishing industry still have concerns about offshore wind, including plans for a wind turbine research array in federal waters, with some saying that this could push offshore fishermen farther toward the coast, putting more pressure on the fishermen in state waters.
The bill was praised by some as a good compromise between the longstanding fishing industry and the growing renewable energy sector as the state tries to tackle climate change.

“This legislation seeks to balance Maine’s existing heritage industry work with innovation in the clean energy sector,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “We look forward to the economic growth that offshore wind will provide while simultaneously helping us achieve our climate goals.”

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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