Federal agency opens Gulf of Maine for wind development as state tries to balance interests
Energize Weekly, May 3, 2023
The Biden administration has opened a 10-million-acre tract in the Gulf of Maine for offshore wind (OSW) development proposals, as the state is trying to balance promoting wind and protecting fisheries.
“This represents an early step in the commercial planning and leasing process,” the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said in announcing the target area.
The process begins with a 45-day period for public comment and commercial nominations for an area, which includes Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
“BOEM is committed to transparent, inclusive and data-driven processes, and public input is essential to helping us determine areas that may be suitable for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine,” BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein said in statement.
“We are still early in the planning and leasing process, and we look forward to the multiple future opportunities for engagement,” Klein said.
The BOEM’s “final call area” was identified in consultation with tribes, states, the Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as fishing and shipping industries.
The final call reduced the target area by 30 percent to 9.8 million acres – including 160,000 acres in the Georges Bank, a maritime area claimed by both the U.S. and Canada.
The Gulf of Maine covers 23 million acres from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Nova Scotia.
Energy companies including Orange, Connecticut-based AVANGRID Inc., France’s TotalEnergies, Germany’s RWE AG are reportedly interested in developing offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine.
Floating wind turbines – an emerging technology – would be necessary for projects in the Gulf of Maine because the depth of the water precludes the use of standard, fixed equipment.
Maine already is aiming to have a dozen floating wind turbine projects as the University of Maine researchers have worked with commercial enterprises to patent floating offshore wind technology.
The BOEM announcement was the latest initiative the Biden administration’s push to put wind turbines along the entire U.S. coastline with the goal of helping to displace fossil fuel power generation.
In 2022, the administration set a goal of powering five million homes with floating offshore wind by 2035.
At the same time, Maine is focusing on developing offshore wind. In February, the state issued an Offshore Wind Road Map, charting a path for developing offshore generation projects and onshore supply chains while balancing the impacts on coastal communities and fisheries.
There is also legislation pending in the Maine legislature, supported by environmental and labor groups, to speed offshore wind development in the state even more.
The bill would require the state to acquire 2.8 gigawatts offshore wind power by 2035 – requiring as many as 400 turbines.
The push is tempered with trying to minimize impacts on the fishing industry, which provides $3 billion in direct and indirect economic benefits to the state, according the offshore roadmap.
There are more than 16,000 licensed fishermen in Maine, and the state logs twice as many seafood landings as any other East Coast state. In 2022, landings accounted for 197 million pounds of seafood worth $574 million.
“If impacts to fisheries cannot be avoided, minimized, or mitigated, advocate for a plan to assess and quantify these impacts utilizing the best available fisheries, ecological, and socio-economic data,” the state offshore wind roadmap said.
That plan, the roadmap said, should consider broad impacts to the industry and its communities before, during and after construction and operation of OSW farms, and impacts on fishermen, associated businesses, and communities.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, a supporter of wind power, in a move to balance offshore development and commercial fishing, in 2021signed a bill prohibiting offshore wind projects in the state’s nearshore waters.
Fishing interests, however are unassuaged.
“It should come as no surprise that lobstermen oppose offshore wind on general principle,” Ginny Olsen is the director of Maine Lobstering Union Local 207, wrote in an op-ed piece for the Bangor Daily News.
“It should also come as no surprise that we will explore and act upon any and every opportunity to mitigate the impacts to our fishery and members in the event that offshore wind does move forward in the Gulf of Maine,” Olsen said.