AUGUSTA — A ban on offshore wind development in state waters has made it through the state Legislature and will head over to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills.
On June 30, the state Senate voted to enact the compromise that had emerged out of the committee, melding a bill from local state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) with one backed by Mills’ office.
Faulkingham’s bill would have stopped state agencies from permitting any wind development while Mills recommended a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind projects in state waters.
The bill that now is before Mills bans offshore wind development in state waters and creates an “offshore wind research consortium” that would research local and regional impacts of offshore wind projects.
While proponents for new types of energy have pushed for offshore wind power to come to the Gulf of Maine, fishermen have been dead set against the idea, saying it could not only put their livelihoods at risk but also threaten the marine ecosystem off Maine.
“I’m very glad with how that all worked out,” Faulkingham said on July 1, about the bill. “Obviously, it was a lot of work, a lot of compromise.”
The new bill largely took his previous bill as a framework and carved out exceptions, including one for the ongoing wind project off Monhegan.
Faulkingham, a lobsterman himself, has been the standard bearer for the fishing industry at the state capitol and he was confident that Mills would sign the bill, as members of her office were involved in the negotiations for the compromise.
In addition to the consortium, the bill also creates an advisory board that would oversee the development and execution of the research strategy. On the board, there would be commercial lobstermen and representatives from the commercial and recreational fishing industries.
The state only has direct power to prohibit offshore wind in its waters, which run up to 3 miles from shore. Farther than that is federal jurisdiction, and the Biden administration has been pushing for more wind power development.
While the state can’t control what happens past the 3-mile line, the bill does set conditions that would need to be met before the state allows it to connect to the mainland or run through state waters.
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 would also 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.
While this is better than the original idea posed by the Governor, it doesn’t change the fact that the lobster industry is still concerned about offshore wind and the continued development of a state-run wind turbine research array, said Patrice McCarron, the president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
Although she did worry that this could push more of the burden on fishermen who fish outside the 3-mile line, McCarron did see some of the concessions that were made as an olive branch to the industry. She was also heartened by the fact that lobstermen could help guide what research is undertaken.
“I hope that the fishing industry getting that role can help make the research more effective than it might otherwise have been,” she said.
State Sen. Mark Lawrence (D-York) had originally filed the moratorium and was pleased with the compromise as the state grapples with a changing climate.
“The climate change crisis is already impacting nearly every facet of our lives here in Maine, from changing lobster catches to spreading tick populations to extreme weather that causes property damage. We need to do all we can to explore and develop renewable energy sources to help combat climate change, and wind energy should be part of that,” he said. “This bill will help Maine move forward on offshore wind energy while protecting our working waterfronts and fishing territories.”