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Offshore Wind Leases Off the Table for LMA 1 State and Federal Push for Offshore Wind Energy Continues

On March 15, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the final Wind Energy Area (WEA) in the Gulf of Maine which establishes the extent of area eligible for lease later this year, an historic first for the region. At the Maine Fishermen’s Forum earlier in March, an entire day was spent reviewing the status of offshore wind development in the Gulf and the complex permitting process now underway.

Stephanie Watson from the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) spoke to the large audience about state efforts to create an offshore wind energy research array approximately 40 nautical miles off southern Maine. The Maine Legislature created the Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Consortium in 2021 to better understand the impact of offshore wind development in the Gulf. To date the Legislature has invested $3 million in the Consortium for research projects.

In 2023 the Consortium’s 26-member advisory board completed its research strategy and funded three priority research projects. The first will look at fisheries coexistence with offshore wind energy development, focusing on socio-economic factors. The second project will be an inventory of socio-economic data, and the third involves seafloor mapping to characterize seafloor habitats, which will be conducted by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR).

GEO completed its application to BOEM for the wind research array in 2022; the application is currently undergoing an Environmental Assessment under National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. Research conducted at the array will be made available to “inform” BOEM’s future leases. The current plan for the site, located nearly 40 miles from shore, is for ten floating wind energy turbines capable of generating 144 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The Maine Public Utilities Commission is reviewing a Power Purchase Agreement submission.

The consulting firm Karp Strategies and Alison Bates from Colby College will conduct the project to inventory socio-economic data. “We will do a comprehensive inventory of existing socio-economic data and identify gaps in the data,” Bates explained. “That will lead us to make recommendations on where and how Maine should prioritize future studies.” Bates and Karp Strategies staff will speak with fishermen, researchers, and environmental organization representatives on what specific data they think is important. Alice Sandzen from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute will focus on fisheries coexistence with offshore wind energy development. “The first question we will address is what does coexistence look like?” Sandzen said. The goal is to develop research questions that reflect diverse gear types operating offshore and that lead to best practices for wind energy developers.

Jesse Minor at DMR is coordinating the Maine Coastal Mapping Initiative in partnership with GEO. Three sonar-equipped fishing vessels with hydrographic and wildlife observers on board will conduct 24-hour, multi-day surveys. The purpose is to rapidly fill in data gaps in the areas relevant to wind project development. New mapping will be done in a 12-mile area surrounding the lease area. Inshore the vessels will concentrate on Muscongus Bay, the Midcoast, and outer Casco Bay. Offshore priority areas lie northwest and south of the research array area. In addition, the project will survey BOEM’s identified Wind Energy Area, focusing particularly east of Cashes Ledge. The data will be used to create seafloor characteristics maps as well as habitat maps. “For some of these areas, existing data is from the 1880s,” Minor noted.

The audience questioned whether a route had been chosen for the cables that will bring electricity from the planned research array to shore. “Not selected yet but likely to be either to Maine Yankee or to Wyman Station in Yarmouth,” Watson replied. “But either route will need a full federal review.”

Turning to the review process for leases, Zach Jylkka from BOEM spoke about the Gulf of Maine Wind Energy Area and Maine’s research array lease application. He started off by stating the obvious: “There is no area in the Gulf of Maine free of conflict. We want leases to be in the areas with the lowest amount of conflicts.”

In October 2023 BOEM announced draft Wind Energy Areas in the Gulf.

Fishermen breathed a sigh of relief when it was made clear that nearly all of Lobster Management Area 1 (LMA 1) was excluded. However, two secondary areas of interest within LMA 1 remained under consideration. BOEM received more than 300 comments during the public comment period, which ended in November, the majority of which asked that those two secondary areas be removed. Other commentors asked that leases be excluded from LMA 3 and from any areas where the Northeast groundfish fleet operated. The final Wind Energy Area, announced on March 15, excluded all of LMA 1 included those two secondary areas.

“We are now at the comment review stage, looking at size, location of the lease areas, etc.” Jylkka said. “The lease auction date is still sometime between October and December 2024.” He emphasized that a lease does not authorize construction of wind turbines, rather it allows for site characterization and environmental assessment activities by the developer to determine if the area is suitable for construction of an offshore wind array.

Once a lease is issued, BOEM steps back slightly from center stage. “The developer does most of the engagement with the public,” Jylkka said. BOEM comes in after the Construction and Operations Plan (COP) is done, which, Jylkka estimated, would be six to eight years after the lease sale.

Concerning Maine’s planned research array, “BOEM sees it as a key opportunity to work with the state on research related to offshore wind.” He anticipated approval for the lease sometime this spring.

Josh Gange from BOEM spoke about the review procedures for electricity transmission from wind turbines. A lot of federal agencies and other entities are involved, including BOEM, the Army Corps of Engineers, state agencies, and the electrical grid operator.

“Transmission is part of the lease,” Gange said. “The developer must work with the state on where cables are located, and the grid connection with the independent system operator (ISO).” The wind energy developer must incorporate easements for the cable as part of its Construction and Operations Plan. Multiple route options might be in the plan, which itself must go through NEPA review. “From identifying the transmission route to construction takes several years,” Gange said.

Another agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), also plays a role in offshore wind lease permits. “BSEE performs environmental compliance checks on Outer Continental Shelf activities,” explained Hannah Weaver from BSEE. “That includes environmental compliance related to protected species, habitat, commercial and recreational fishing, visual and cultural resources.” BSEE is most active during the construction and operation phase of development and can take appropriate enforcement actions.

Later in the day presentations turned to the engineering aspects of floating offshore wind turbines. Suzanne MacDonald from the National Renewal Energy Laboratory, a research institution, spoke about recent improvements in floating offshore wind technology.

Floating wind turbines currently are operating at two locations in Scotland. “Floating wind turbines are expected to be deployed at utility scale by 2025,” she said. “Costs for things such as steel have given the industry pause recently but it is ready to explode exponentially when those costs go down.”

Companies have moved to ever larger wind blades, in part to economize the cost of constructing floating turbines, MacDonald noted. As the blades grow longer and the turbines taller, the space between each becomes larger. So too does the seafloor area each turbine must have for anchoring. “The spacing is measured by rotor diameter. For a 220-meter (720-foot) rotor you need eight rotor diameters [between turbines], about one mile,” she said. These larger rotors and structures also require larger staging areas on land. Most of the construction of a floating turbine will take place on shore because it is less expensive on land than at sea.

Richard Akers with Maine Marine Composites focused on the mooring systems needed to anchor the turbines in place. Different types of mooring and anchoring systems are associated with different types of floating turbines. Anchors can be drag embedded, driven piles, suction piles, or gravity anchors. “Suction embedded plate anchors seem best for the Gulf of Maine,” Akers said. “They cause the least disturbance to the seafloor but are hard to get out in decommissioning.”

He pointed out that every floating turbine, despite being tethered to the bottom, will move about in the ocean, encompassing an area called a watch circle. The footprint for the anchoring system also varies depending on what is used to connect the floating turbine to the anchor.

The cable extending from a turbine may be run to a floating substation and from there to the seafloor. “You can’t bend a cable because it will break,” Akers said. Once the cable reaches the bottom it will be buried six feet into the seafloor.

When asked during a panel discussion about the size of any no-fishing zone around a floating wind turbine, Akers said that the aim is to have a watch area no more than 50 meters in size around the turbine in any direction. “A huge exclusion zone is not needed,” he said. “It’s a small space to stay out of except you don’t know where they [the anchor lines] are. You could have fixed gear there but how do you mark it?”

Another person asked how BOEM evaluates which mooring system would be best to use. Jylkka said that such a decision was a long way away. “You have the NEPA review, and state and federal review of the Construction and Operation Plan, which shows how the thing will be built. [The systems] will be fine-tuned but some of it is just availability.”


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