Governor Janet Mills today proposed a series of actions to advance the nation’s first floating offshore wind research array in federal waters and to protect Maine’s more heavily fished state waters according to a press release issued today by the Governor’s office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Deputy Director, Anthony Ronzio.
In a letter to Maine’s licensed commercial fishermen, Governor Mills announced that she will propose for the Legislature’s approval a 10-year moratorium on new offshore wind projects in waters managed by the state and that she has directed the Governor’s Energy Office to review offshore wind regulations and again opened channels and opportunities for meaningful input from fishermen and marine industries siting the proposed research array.
These actions seek to protect fishing and recreational opportunities within the three miles of coastal waters managed by the state, which are more heavily fished than federal waters. The actions also allow for additional substantial input from the fishing industry as Maine continues to pursue the nation’s first floating offshore and research array in the Gulf of Maine and its associated economic and energy benefits.
Since taking office, General Mills has made the development of renewable energy a top priority for fighting climate change and growing Maine’s economy. In June 2019, she announced the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative to guide the responsible development of an offshore wind industry in Maine. As part of the initiative, Governor Mills in November announced the state’s intention to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind research array, which garnered broad support from leading economic, labor and environmental organizations in Maine, as well as bipartisan support from Maine’s congressional delegation.
The research array is proposed for an area 20 – 40 miles in the Gulf of Maine that meets basic siting criteria. In addition to the mainland grid connection, the site for the array which also requires suitable water depths and bottom topography to support the experimental floating offshore wind turbines. The most likely connections have been determined to be either Wyman Station in Yarmouth or Maine Yankee in Wiscasset.
No decision has yet been made on a site, which as a research array, is only expected to cover some 16 sq. miles of ocean or fewer and contain no more than a dozen turbines. This limited scope is approximately l/l0 the size of comparable commercial-scale offshore wind farms elsewhere in New England it was purposefully done by Governor Mills as a reasonable and measured step forward to pursuing this new technology.
As the first floating offshore wind research array in US, the array would study how the new technology interacts with the marine environment, the fishing industry and perform both generating energy and sending it to the mainland grid. Permitting and construction of the floating array is expected to take up to five years, in advance of a research period of roughly 20 years. After this period, the array would be decommissioned. As envisioned, the research array would use floating offshore wind technology pioneered over the past decade by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. Last summer, the University announced a new $100 million partnership with two global leaders in offshore wind energy, Diamond and RWE Renewables, to develop is emerging technology through a new company called New England Aqua Venus.
Separately from the research array, New England Aqua Venus is permitted to establish a single-turbine demonstration site for its technology in state-managed waters near Monhegan. As a permitted project, this site would not be subject to the proposed 10-year moratorium referred to previously. There are no current applications for offshore wind projects on site-managed waters, where a majority of Maine’s commercial fishing occurs.
Estimated to drive some $70 billion investment over the next decade alone, offshore wind has become a priority by many states on the eastern seaboard to meet growing demand for clean, renewable energy to combat climate change and the severe economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is more than 25,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy in the development pipeline along the east coast.
With some of the highest sustained offshore wind speeds in the world, the federally managed waters of the Gulf of Maine are a likely destination for commercial-scale wind projects to meet growing energy demands. Proposing a research array is a prudent, proactive step for Maine to ensure Maine’s interests and values remain foremost in any offshore wind development.
In addition to the research array, the state has also received a $2.16 million federal grant to develop a wide-ranging “roadmap” for offshore wind that will analyze all facets of the industry, from required port infrastructure, supply chain considerations, workforce training and development initiatives and potential impacts on fishing and the Maine environment. Work on the roadmaps will begin later this year and will build upon the initial discussions around the research array.
A study has been conducted of port opportunities in Searsport as a potential central hub for the offshore wind industry, which would include the transportation, assembly and possible fabrication of floating turbines, is also underway through the Maine Department of Transportation.