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Wind energy moving fast in the Gulf of Maine

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a two-day meeting of the Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force in Bangor in May. The Task Force is composed of federal, state, local and tribal government officials from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Its role is to help coordinate energy planning activities in federal Gulf of Maine waters.

The purpose of the meeting was for BOEM to update task force members and the public on the Bureau’s offshore wind energy planning activities in the Gulf, and to discuss next steps regarding the lease process underway for the area.

Two developments are underway in the Gulf of Maine. First, BOEM is in the process of developing a lease area in the Gulf for commercial wind energy projects. BOEM published a Call for Information and Nominations for leases in the Gulf. This Call invites public comment on and assesses interest in possible commercial wind energy development in areas offshore Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine; comments are due by June 12.

Second, the state of Maine has an application before BOEM to lease an area in federal waters off southern Maine for an offshore wind energy research array. The purpose of the research array is to build a small-scale commercial wind farm to conduct research to better understand the impacts of large-scale commercial wind development in this region. BOEM published the Gulf of Maine’s Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) for Maine’s wind energy research array lease and is accepting public comments until June 5.

The first day of the Task Force meeting provided in-depth presentations on three emerging issues: floating offshore technology, offshore wind data collection activities including analyses for whales and other protected species, and transmission planning. In addition, BOEM staff provided a brief overview of the leasing process in the Gulf of Maine.

The second day dug deeper into BOEM’s leasing process in the Gulf of Maine to discuss opportunities, concerns and next steps. BOEM’s approach is to start with a very large area and remove areas that are unsuitable for offshore wind development based on feedback from developers or issues identified by other stakeholders due to environmental harm or significant conflict with existing uses. For the Gulf of Maine, the draft offshore wind planning area included almost the entire Gulf. Based on public comment, BOEM has removed from consideration all areas within 20 miles from shore and also other sensitive habitats.

The feedback BOEM receives through the Call for Information and Nominations in the Gulf will help the agency determine the level of interest from developers and better understand the conditions, which could further narrow down potential lease areas. BOEM will then publish “draft wind energy areas” for the public to comment on and conduct a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis on the final “wind energy areas” to select a smaller area, which ultimately will be considered for offshore wind leasing. According to BOEM the size and scope of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine will be determined by the states’ energy goals. During the meeting, Massachusetts revealed it plans to develop 23 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind; Maine plans to develop 3 GW (a gigawatt equals 1000 megawatts (MW)). To achieve this energy output, 1,440 wind turbines (each producing 18 MW) would need to be constructed in the Gulf of Maine.

There were many concerns raised during the meeting from both the public and task force members. Fishermen raised concerns that developing offshore wind would harm the productive Gulf of Maine ecosystem and put the livelihood and heritage of Maine’s fishing industry at risk. Wildlife scientists noted that the Gulf of Maine has tremendous value in its wildlife, fisheries and habitats. They raised concern over the impacts of offshore wind on birds, marine mammals and other marine species, and worried that the models under development lack sufficient data to produce informative results. Representatives from the tribes voiced concern that many of the traditional resources they depend on would be harmed, and raised concerns over equity and justice as tribal members are marginalized in the federal process.

The U.S. Coast Guard presented the results of its Port Access Study, which identified new traffic separation schemes and large fairways to establish safe routes for marine traffic where offshore wind should not be developed. The Coast Guard is soliciting comments on this proposal.

Transmission challenges were identified as one of the biggest hurdles to developing offshore wind. The region lacks high-capacity transmission infrastructure and faces significant challenges in developing solutions to move large volumes of wind energy through the few interconnection sites.

Additional information on the BOEM Gulf of Maine Task Force meeting and lease development process is available here.

BOEM is accepting public comment to gather information and assesses interest in possible commercial wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine until June 12 (BOEM-2023-0025). BOEM is accepting public comment on its Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) for Maine’s wind energy research array lease until June 5 (BOEM-2023-0031). Comments for both should be submitted through www.regulations.gov.

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