Wind moratorium proposed in state waters

BAR HARBOR— In a Jan. 22 letter to Maine fishermen, Governor Janet Mills said she would submit legislation to create a 10-year moratorium on new wind energy development in state waters.

“While we may not agree on the best response to offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine, please know that I am being fully briefed on the feedback you are providing to the Energy Office and DMR, and I understand your concerns,” Mills wrote. “I want to make clear that my focus is the research array, proposed for federal waters. New, commercial-scale offshore wind projects do not belong in state waters that support the majority of the state’s lobster fishing activity, that provide important habitat for coastal marine and wildlife species and that support a tourist industry based in part on Maine’s iconic coastal views.”

This past November, Mills announced the state’s intention to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind research array. The research array is proposed for an area 20-40 miles off the coast in the Gulf of Maine in a yet-to-be-determined location that would allow the array to connect to the energy grid in southern Maine. According to Mills’ office, the most likely locations for that connection would be either Wyman Station in Yarmouth or Maine Yankee in Wiscasset. The array is expected to cover up to 16 square miles of ocean and have up to 12 turbines.

Separately from the research array, New England Aqua Ventus is permitted to establish a single-turbine demonstration site for its technology in state-managed waters near Monhegan. As a permitted project, this site would not be subject to the proposed 10-year moratorium. There are no current applications for offshore wind projects in state-managed waters.

While a site for the research array has not been determined, Maine Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron has described the wide swath of the gulf under consideration as “prime fishing bottom.”

In her letter to commercial fishermen, Mills stated that it would be “irresponsible” for her to ignore the potential benefits of offshore wind in reducing carbon emissions, fighting climate change and creating economic opportunities.

“Offshore wind is a significant clean energy and economic opportunity for Maine, which we will pursue responsibly, transparently and in consultation with our fishing and maritime industries,” Mills said in a statement Monday. “By focusing on floating offshore technology deep in the Gulf of Maine where the wind is strongest, we will protect Maine’s maritime heritage and coastal economy while being out front in this new competitive industry.”

“This moratorium is an important step that will allow us to continue to alleviate concerns expressed by fishermen and will give us an opportunity to have a more focused conversation around the proposed research array,” said Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “We will continue to work to see that all stakeholders are afforded the opportunity to have a voice in the decision-making process. Maine fishermen are vital to our state’s economy and heritage and I applaud Governor Mills’ decision to support their opportunity for input into the shared use of our state’s valuable marine resources.”

The research array would study how the new technology interacts with the marine environment and the fishing industry, and how it performs in both generating energy and sending it to the mainland grid. Permitting and construction of the floating array is expected to take up to five years, in advance of a research period of roughly 20 years. After this period, the array would be decommissioned.

As envisioned, the research array would use floating offshore wind technology pioneered over the past decade by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. Last summer, the university announced a new $100 million partnership with two global leaders in offshore wind energy, Diamond and RWE Renewables, to develop its emerging technology through a new company called New England Aqua Ventus.

The federally managed waters of the Gulf of Maine have some of the highest sustained offshore wind speeds in the world.

In addition to the research array, the state also has received a $2.16 million federal grant to develop a wide-ranging “roadmap” for offshore wind that will analyze all facets of the industry, from required port infrastructure, supply chain considerations, workforce training and development initiatives and potential impacts on fishing and the marine environment.

A study of port opportunities in Searsport, as a potential central hub for the offshore wind industry, which would include the transportation, assembly and possibly fabrication of floating turbines, is also underway through the Maine Department of Transportation.

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