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Final Federal Wind Lease Area Excludes LMA 1

On March 15 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the Final Wind Energy Area (WEA) for the Gulf of Maine. BOEM plans to auction off leases within that area for offshore wind energy projects later this year. The area excludes all of Lobster Management Area 1.

The final WEA encompasses approximately 2 million acres off the coasts of Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, ranging from 23 to 92 miles from the coast. The final WEA is 43% smaller than the draft WEA released last fall. According to BOEM, the designated area has the potential to support 32 GW of wind energy, which is significantly more than the stated offshore energy goals of Massachusetts and Maine (Maine: 3 GW; Massachusetts: 10 GW).

Response to the BOEM announcement was immediate.

“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) appreciates that BOEM’s Final Wind Energy Area (WEA) removes Lobster Management Area 1. MLA worked tirelessly with Maine’s fishing industry, our congressional delegation, and Governor Mills to ensure prime lobster fishing grounds are spared from industrial development. We are proud that so many lobstermen have constructively engaged in this process and grateful that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has listened to their concerns,” the Maine Lobstermen’s Association said in a press statement.

“But there is still much work to do. Secondary Area C, an area where many endangered North Atlantic right whales are sighted, is included in the Final Wind Energy Area. MLA remains steadfast in its position that no area of the Gulf of Maine should be industrialized with offshore wind. There are still too many unanswered questions about the impacts of offshore wind on the marine environment, commercial fishermen and our fishing heritage.”

“We appreciate that the bureau has heeded our concerns and the majority of the concerns of Maine’s fishing communities in its final designation of wind energy areas for the Gulf of Maine,” Governor Janet Mills, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said in a statement. “This decision preserves vital fishing grounds and seeks to minimize potential environmental and ecological impacts to the Gulf of Maine… We look forward to reviewing the final map in detail and urge the Bureau to continue to engage with Maine’s fishing industry, coastal communities, Tribal governments, and other key maritime users and stakeholders as the commercial leasing process moves forward.”

Seventeen fisheries organizations from throughout New England signed a joint statement taking BOEM to task over the final WEA. “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) final designation of an enormous Wind Energy Area (WEA) for the Gulf of Maine is the culmination of a rushed development process that is poorly informed on economic, scientific, environmental and cultural issues of paramount importance. Without adequate consideration of these issues, leasing in BOEM’s WEA designation should not be pursued.”

The groups registered particular alarm about inclusion of the one remaining secondary area of interest in the WEA. “Despite improvements, the Final WEA leaves a large area open to offshore wind development which directly imperils commercial fishing, sensitive habitats, and maritime communities that depend on the fishing industry. The portion of the WEA formerly called “Secondary area C” is particularly concerning because it encompasses prime groundfishing territory, now slated to close permanently to fishermen who are ably stewarding it.”

BOEM will begin preparing an environmental assessment about the effects of offshore wind development in the area. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft and final environmental assessments. The agency indicated that it would be six to eight years after the lease auction before a developer has the multiple state and federal permits needed to construct an offshore wind energy project in the WEA.

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