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Offshore Wind Bill Passes, Acknowledges Fishing Industry Concerns

The Maine Legislature reached a compromise on offshore wind legislation in June, supporting amendments that give Maine fishermen membership in a newly created Offshore Wind Research Consortium and permanently ban commercial wind development in state waters. The compromise also prevents the state from permitting cables or transmission lines for commercial offshore wind projects developed in federal waters unless the state meets three criteria prioritized by the fishing industry by April 2023.

Before the state can permit cables that connect federal waters offshore wind projects to Maine, it must 1) complete its offshore wind strategic planning project begun this year, 2) conduct a full review of laws and regulations to ensure they adequately protect the state’s coastal resources, and 3) ensure that the Offshore Wind Research Consortium identifies research questions to be answered regarding offshore wind development.

Maine Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham

The Legislature considered two competing offshore wind bills. The first, LD 101, was put forward by Representative Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Winter Harbor lobsterman, to permanently ban all offshore wind development in state waters and prohibit the permitting of cables or infrastructure connecting wind energy developments in federal waters to Maine. In response, Governor Mills put forward a competing bill, LD 1619, to ban offshore wind in state waters for ten years but allow the Monhegan wind energy project and other research projects to move forward. The Governor’s bill also proposed to allow state agencies to permit cables and infrastructure in Maine to support federal offshore wind projects.

Representative Faulkingham led the effort to elevate fishermen’s concerns in the Legislature’s offshore wind debate. The public hearing drew many speakers with members of Maine’s fishing industry voicing support for LD 101, while most other stakeholders supported LD 1619.

Fishermen were united in opposition to offshore wind energy development, viewing it as the wrong renewable energy solution for Maine. Much of the fishing industry’s outrage was fueled by Governor Mills’ announcement in November 2020 that the state would apply for a federal lease to develop a 16-square-mile “research array” consisting of up to 12 floating turbines. Without consultation from the fishing industry, the state identified a 770-square-mile “blob” off Zones D, E and F where the project would be sited. New England Aqua Ventus, the company developing the Monhegan test project, would develop the array which would be cabled to either Wyman’s Station in Yarmouth or Maine Yankee in Wiscasset and operate for 20 to 30 years.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association executive director Patrice McCarron told the Legislature, “We were expecting to be part of a process to understand what offshore wind would mean for Maine. We weren’t expecting the Governor to announce a commercial offshore wind development with the “what, where, how many and with who” already decided. During the public hearing, fishermen raised many concerns over the lack of science on the impacts of offshore wind on the fragile Gulf of Maine ecosystem, fear of industrializing the ocean with floating structures the size of New York City skyscrapers, and Maine selling out its fishing heritage to global energy companies because they have deep pockets, all with no guarantee that this nascent floating wind technology can achieve all that it promises. “Green energy is great, but when the cost outweighs the benefits, it’s time to re-evaluate,” Yarmouth lobsterman Brennan Strong testified. “Please don’t take away independent family businesses just so corporations can sell power.”

Proponents of offshore wind development see it as the solution to address climate change by eliminating dependence on fossil fuels “Simply put, without off-shore wind generation from large wind farms in the Gulf of Maine, Maine cannot meet its emission targets,” testified Dr. Richard Silkman of Competitive Energy Sources.

Block Island Wind Farm turbines Image Courtsey: Providence Journal

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee appeared ready to move LD 1619 forward and kill LD 101, but Representative Faulkingham sought a compromise to ensure fishermen would have a voice in the process if offshore wind moves forward. He worked with Representative Grohoski of Ellsworth to address the concerns of the fishing industry through an amended version of LD 1619. Faulkingham told the Ellsworth American, “It’s a compromise and I’m glad there were some members on the other side willing to deal with me on this.”

The changes to the wind law did not end there. During Senate debate of the compromise wind legislation, Senate President Troy Jackson negotiated further amendments to closely scrutinize offshore wind developments in Lobster Management Area 1 (LMA 1). If the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) determines that a wind energy development sited in LMA 1 would have significant adverse impacts on fisheries, “the state shall request that work to minimize that impact.”

There have been no recent announcements on the status of the state’s plan to apply to BOEM for a lease for the proposed research array. The state is now preparing to begin work on its offshore wind strategic plan, a multi-year planning effort dubbed Maine’s Offshore Wind Roadmap. As part of this process, the state will convene a Fisheries Working Group to advise the state on the industry’s research priorities and concerns.

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