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Apr. 28—As fishing interests geared up early Wednesday for a rally against offshore wind power development, the administration of Gov. Janet Mills introduced legislation to create a 10-year ban on new projects in state waters.
The proposed moratorium would set aside state waters, which extend up to three miles from shore, for fishing and recreation. It would focus commercial-scale wind project development in federal waters of the Gulf of Maine, where the Mills administration has proposed a first-in-the-nation research array to study floating offshore wind technology.
The ban wouldn't include the already permitted New England Aqua Ventus demonstration project, a single floating turbine which is expected to be built off Monhegan Island in 2022-2023.
Lobstermen have shown their displeasure with the Monhegan project, engaging in a dispute last month with a survey vessel working to mark a route for a submerged cable that will connect the project to the mainland.
Mills first proposed the ban in January in an attempt to defuse mounting opposition to offshore wind power from commercial fishing interests. She announced the moratorium bill Wednesday shortly before a protest rally organized by fishermen and their allies was set to begin outside the Augusta Civic Center, where the Maine Legislature was convening in person under COVID-19 guidelines.
The fishing industry says Maine is moving too fast on offshore wind development. It wants the state to wait until it completes the federally funded Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap before any turbines go in the water. That guidance is scheduled to be finished late in 2022.
"This is not a research array," Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said of the study project, which could feature up to a dozen floating turbines spaced across 16 square miles. "This is a full-scale commercial project, and it is imperative that we understand how it will impact the ocean, fishing families, coastal communities and ratepayers before any other conversations take place."
But Mills, in a statement, said Maine can be part of a growing offshore wind industry that creates jobs, fights climate change and protects fishing. The state says roughly three-quarters of the lobster catch occurs in state waters.
"We will focus these efforts in federal waters farther off our coast as we responsibly pursue a small 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 said. "Fundamentally, I do not believe offshore wind and Maine's fishing industry are mutually exclusive."
Mills noted the research array would be 20-40 miles offshore and — contrary to claims of the lobster industry — would be a fraction of the size of a commercial-scale wind farm.
WIND ON THE RISE
The dispute in Maine is taking place as a veritable tidal wave of offshore wind projects worth billions of dollars are being proposed or are taking shape from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
The review and permitting process for offshore wind was slow-walked under former President Donald Trump. But with fighting climate change a priority for President Biden, offshore wind development is on a fast track. This is especially true along the East Coast, where coastal population centers are within reach of subsea cables that would connect wind farms to the electric grid.
Last month, the Biden administration announced a federal target of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, enough energy to power 10 million homes. It also is developing a multi-agency plan to advance commercial-scale projects on the East Coast, provide $3 billion in project financing and invest $230 million in port infrastructure to support the offshore wind industry.
At the same time, lawmakers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire recently enacted laws aimed at purchasing large quantities of ocean wind energy over the next several years.
Those ventures, mostly in shallow water, use technology pioneered in Europe, where ocean wind farms are common. Maine's proposals are unique in that they involve turbines mounted on platforms floating in deep water, far offshore, where wind speeds and the associated energy production are higher.
Separately, an interest group of business, clean energy and labor leaders noted Tuesday that Maine is the only Eastern Seaboard state without a commercial offshore wind lease. It shared a map that shows a dozen planned projects from North Carolina up the coast to Massachusetts.
"We are not rushing," the Gulf of Maine Sustainability Alliance said in a statement. "We are acting wisely to protect the gulf, to combat climate change, to create jobs, and to build a sustainable future for all marine industries and all Maine people. The real way to protect the Gulf of Maine is to accept that offshore wind is coming and build it our way."
In proposing the bill, Mills noted that her administration is working to create an economic development plan to build an offshore wind industry — known as a roadmap — while also preparing to use the research array to study the effects of floating offshore wind technology on fishing and the marine environment.
The roadmap, however, doesn't decide whether projects are to be developed in the 36,000-square-mile gulf, she noted. Projects in federal waters are permitted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The proposed research array would be a smaller-scale model of an offshore wind project, the Mills administration said. With few floating offshore wind turbines operating in the world, and none in the United States, the research array would conduct needed research and scientific study into floating offshore wind and its effects on fishing and the marine environment to inform future projects.
No site for the research array has yet been chosen. It would connect to the mainland electric grid at either Wyman Station in Yarmouth or the former Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset. The federal permitting process could take up to four years, the state estimates.
Further virtual public meetings about the research array organized by the Governor's Energy Office and the Department of Marine Resources are upcoming.
The moratorium bill is sponsored by Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, the Senate chair of the Legislature's Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.