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Outreach Meeting On Wind Array Leads To More Questions

The Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) held two outreach meetings online in March to address fisheries and wildlife concerns related to the Governor’s proposal for an offshore wind research array in federal waters off southern and midcoast Maine. The fisheries meeting on March 10 was well attended, with more than 86 individuals participating.

Celina Cunningham, deputy director of GEO, provided an overview of the state’s efforts regarding offshore wind development. The GEO received a $2.1 million grant from the EDA in late 2020 to develop a “roadmap” for the development of the offshore wind industry in the state. Gov. Mills began a Wind Initiative in 2019 to position Maine to take advantage of increased interest in offshore wind development, drawing on the decades-long research undertaken at the University of Maine. Early in her administration, Gov. Mills worked with the Legislature to set an 80% renewable energy generation goal for Maine by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

In November 2020, the Governor announced plans to apply to the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) for a lease to construct an offshore wind research array in an area that falls within lobster zones D, E and F. The proposed wind research array, which will have 12 or fewer turbines generating between 10 to 14 MW, is a joint project of the GEO, the University of Maine, and New England Aqua Ventus, which is itself a project of Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation, and RWE Renewables. The wind turbines to be constructed in the 16 square mile project site will be floating, rather than mounted on the seafloor. “There is not a lot of data on floating projects,” Cunningham said. “We want to gather baseline data on fisheries and vessel interactions."

The proposed offshore wind research array area of interest is adjacent to a proposed North Atlantic right whale closure area. DMR graphic.

The area of the Gulf of Maine was chosen for the research array based on multiple criteria, said Cunningham. The area is between 20 and 40 miles offshore with depths 150 feet or deeper. It is in the southern part of Maine because of simpler access to the electrical grid. The area under consideration features either mud or gravel bottom, avoids highly trafficked area of the Gulf, and is not visible from shore.

The exact 16 square mile location for the turbines has not yet been determined. However, the design elements are clear. The turbines will float at the sea surface and be spaced at least one mile apart. They will be attached to a drag anchor on the seafloor using a chain catenary mooring system. The turbines will be connected to each other via electrical cables which will be buried if possible or “mattressed” if the sea floor is rock. The electrical cable to shore will also be buried or “mattressed” and tie in to Wyman’s Station on Cousins Island or to the former Maine Yankee site on the Sheepscot River in Wiscasset.

“We are seeking input from you on the array’s location, configuration, orientation and navigational spacing,” Cunningham said. Carl Wilson, director of the Department of Marine Resources Science Bureau, spoke about the seafloor characteristics of the area and the fishing uses of a 770-square-mile oval-shaped area within which the 16 square mile research array would be sited. To the west, the area crosses onto traditional fishing grounds called Jeffrey’s Basin and Platts Bank. Another fishing area, Mistaken Ground, is in the middle of the oval. Parts of Platts Bank lies within the area, which abuts the Western Gulf of Maine groundfish closure area at its western tip. The area is bisected by the western and eastern navigational approaches to Portland, and a Department of Defense exclusion area to its east.

Much of the data available about the area comes from the Northeast Ocean Data Portal (www.northeastoceandata.org), where multiple layers of data can be overlaid on specific areas of the Gulf of Maine.

Wilson noted that for recreational fishing vessels, the area of Platts Bank is very important. For lobster fishermen, based on inquiries the science bureau has made, the Mistaken Ground area is important. “But the footprint of the lobster fishery is poorly defined right now,” Wilson said. Based on VMS data for groundfishing vessels in 2015-2016, there’s a lot of fishing activity on the western side of the area and outside the area boundary. But, Wilson cautioned, the density of activity changes greatly depending on the years looked at. Three Dory Ridge is another active area for groundfishing while the Winter Bottom area is well used in the summer months. Based on interviews with fishermen and fishing effort data, it appears that the number of fishermen actively fishing drops with greater distance from shore, in greater depths of water, and on mud bottom. Yet no part of the area is entirely untouched by fishermen.

“There are impacts everywhere . No area is impact free,” Wilson said. Additional work sessions focused on fisheries will be held in April. Individual meetings with fishermen and small group sessions may take place along the coast in April and May, if COVID restrictions permits. Fishermen are encouraged to visit the GEO web site HERE to learn more about the proposal and the area under consideration.

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