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Steaming Ahead - December 2020

Patrice McCarron works tirelessly to protect Maine's lobster industry.

It is no secret that Governor Mills has had an unwavering commitment to aggressively address climate change through an emphasis on renewable energy. She was clear about it throughout her election campaign. After her election, Governor Mills wasted no time in taking action to position Maine to be a player in offshore wind development. She quickly reversed former Governor LePage’s moratorium on wind energy construction in the state. She then turned her attention to the Legislature, working with that body to establish the Maine Climate Council, set aggressive greenhouse gas emission goals, and commit Maine to achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. She signed into law a requirement that the Public Utilities Commission approve a power contract agreement with New England Aqua Ventus, reversing another LePage-era policy. She established the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative to identify opportunities for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. She committed Maine, with New Hampshire and Massachusetts, to become part of a Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Regional Task Force on offshore wind organized by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), in order to identify potential opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development in the Gulf. The Governor made it crystal clear that Maine would pursue offshore wind development but in a manner compatible with existing uses, such as Maine’s commercial fishing industry. As these efforts to revive offshore wind as a pillar of Maine’s renewable energy future unfolded last year, the MLA joined the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA). RODA is a broad coalition of fishing industry associations and businesses that work together to ensure that any new offshore development is compatible with existing fisheries. The MLA recognized that the issue of wind development is too big and complex for individual fisheries and industry associations to tackle on their own. Offshore wind developers have very deep pockets along with significant government support and incentives aimed at promoting their success. No single fishery association could provide the scientific or policy analysis, much less attend all the meetings, required to ensure that the concerns of the fishing industry are properly addressed as wind developments are put forward. Early in 2019 RODA proactively sent a letter to BOEM and the governors of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts asking for a six-month pause in the offshore wind development process due to the challenges of engaging the fishing industry during the pandemic. The letter asked BOEM to convene a fisheries-driven Gulf of Maine regional working group and requested the governors to come together to urge BOEM not to consider any unsolicited bids for offshore wind development leases. The letter further called for greater transparency in offshore wind procurement goals and clarification of their context within an overall energy strategy. Governor Mills’ response to RODA’s letter reiterated her strong support for “renewable energy as part of the solution to combatting climate change and growing Maine’s economy,” but also “that we must go at a pace that recognizes the strain being experienced within the fishing industry.” In October, no information had come from the Governor’s office on how the fishing industry would be in engaged in the Offshore Wind Initiative. In an effort to keep lobstermen informed, Landings interviewed the deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation & the Future (GOPIF), Anthony Ronzio, to clarify, specifically, what actions it would be taking. Landings was not informed of any specific offshore wind plans in the pipeline. Instead, we were told that the state would continue its participation with the BOEM Task Force, was developing an organizational framework for the Initiative to include a fisheries working group, and that the state was waiting for a federal grant to be “used to build a comprehensive plan to advance offshore wind for Maine that is collaborative and has a substantial focus on stakeholder engagement, including fisheries.” When asked specifically how the state would work with the fishing industry, Ronzio responded, “We hope to gather input from the fishing industry so that it can inform the state’s participation in the federal leasing process and ensure that the input from Maine’s fishing industry is considered by BOEM.” In November, Landings reported on the Governor’s Energy Office’s (GEO) plans to use a new federal grant award of $2.166 million to develop a roadmap for offshore wind energy development. “The award is an opportunity for the state and stakeholders to develop a holistic, comprehensive road map and plan for advancing offshore wind in the state in compatibility with existing uses,” stated Celina Cunningham, deputy director of GEO and coordinator of the offshore wind development planning project. According to Cunningham, the offshore wind development road map will be determined by those who are involved in the project. “This will be a stakeholder-driven process. The structure also will serve us through the duration of the state’s interaction with BOEM,” Cunningham said. Meanwhile, rumors circulated within the fishing industry that the state had plans for an offshore wind development off southern Maine. Concerned by these rumors, the MLA sent a letter to Governor Mills on November 11 emphasizing the need for “clear and transparent communications, a robust stakeholder process, and a commitment to address the lack of data on what these projects will mean for marine ecosystems and the many fishing communities along our coast.” The MLA again stressed the need to consult the fishing industry before decisions were made and reiterated that the absence of transparent communications would foster a deep distrust among fishing industry stakeholders which ultimately would hinder the state’s efforts. The MLA also has consistently raised concerns over how offshore wind would figure into Maine’s ambitious renewable energy portfolio through its position on the Maine Climate Council. The MLA was successful in including language in the Council’s report stating that the fishing industry will be consulted before the state puts forward any proposals to site wind development in the Gulf of Maine. Just a week after sending its letter to the Governor, the MLA was invited to join Mills administration officials and fishing industry leaders to discuss the state’s vision for offshore wind development. We quickly learned, however, that we were brought together simply to receive notice of the Governor’s plan to announce (in the next day or two) her intention to apply for an offshore wind research lease with BOEM in early 2021. The lease would be located 20 to 40 miles off southern Maine, be less than 16 square miles in size and deploy up to 12 turbines connected to the mainland power grid. The state already had conducted preliminary siting analyses based on existing data sets but they did not share with us the results of that work. This is a far cry from the promise that the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative would create a fisheries working group as a “forum in which to share information and advance ideas or address concerns the fishing industry may have.” Instead, we were told that the state had crafted a plan for how to advance offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine. End of story. Checking a box to indicate that a conversation took place with fishing industry representatives is in no way a transparent and meaningful stakeholder process. So now we officially have right whale rules and offshore wind to deal with. What a way to close out 2020! Here’s to a new year, a better year. The MLA promises to work to make 2021 a year in which the concerns of the fishing industry are actually heard, a year in which we will demand accountability for the promises made to protect our livelihoods. Maine’s fishermen have supported thousands of quality jobs, produced healthy food for our nation, and sustained Maine’s coastal communities, large and small, for hundreds of years. We will not sit idly by and let our livelihoods be traded in for the unknown and unproven potential of offshore wind. As always, stay safe on the water.

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