Rockport – Inter-governmental task forces have been established to facilitate the development of offshore wind energy projects – but they don’t include the fishing industry or any other non-governmental body.
Wright Frank, an energy program specialist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, discussed the latest developments in the wind energy siting process in offshore waters. Frank spoke during a session the Maine Fisherman’s Forum, which convened March 3-5 at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
Last September, the bureau and the state of Maine formed an offshore renewable energy task force to facilitate communication between bureau officials and local, state, tribal and federal stakeholders concerning commercial renewable energy leasing and development on the outer continental shelf off the coast of Maine.
“I’ve heard some people complain it’s not as inclusive as it should be,” Frank said of the task force.
Frank said the task force aims to communicate with all stakeholders.
In February, the federal government announced new funding opportunities – up to $50.5 million over five years – for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic, according to a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement press release.
The development of offshore wind energy is expected to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035, the release said.
The four designated wind energy areas offshore the mid-Atlantic have been approved by the U.S. departments of the Interior and Energy for coordinated environmental studies, large-scale planning and expedited approval processes to speed offshore wind energy development, the release said. The areas are the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Delaware (122 square nautical miles), Maryland (207 snm), New Jersey (417 snm), and Virginia (165 snm).
This month, according to the release, the Department of the Interior also expects to identify wind energy areas off of North Atlantic states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A similar process will occur for the South Atlantic region, namely North Carolina, this spring, the release said.
Frank said that, as the process moves along, coordination with the state would be “extremely important.”
However, he said, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement/Maine task force is currently an intergovernmental body only.
“Though fishermen and private industry may attend meetings, they cannot participate as members,” he said.
The square mileage identified in the wind energy areas off the Mid-Atlantic states are “far larger than anyone reasonably expects to be developed,” he said.
In the Northeast to date, he said, the bureau has formed task forces on offshore wind development with Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There has been no interest from the states of New Hampshire and Connecticut, he said. The task forces are established by request of the states, he said. Both Maine and Massachusetts have state initiatives for the development of wind energy within three miles of the shoreline, he said.
Although non-governmental bodies are not included on the task forces, Frank said, there will be ample opportunity for public comment throughout the site leasing process.
“We take comments very seriously,” he said. “Especially in a new field, we’re more than willing to admit our ignorance of certain aspects.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement takes a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to offshore wind development, Frank said.
“These areas are far larger than anyone can reasonably expect to be developed,” he said of the mid-Atlantic areas, by way of example. “From our perspective, there are two ways to find the area you want. You can put a small circle out there and see how that goes, or you can put a large circle out there and learn as much as you can about a large area and try to direct the development where you think makes most sense. We’re really going from wide to narrow. That does lead to a little shock sometimes. Someone sees the map for the first time, and it’s huge.”
Several fishery managers and fishery association representatives said the industry needs to claim its place as a stakeholder in the federal government’s acceleration of the development of offshore wind energy.
Paul Howard, executive director of the New England Fishery Management Council, said the federal government’s accelerated program on wind energy has meant a change in focus for the NEFMC.
“Last July, the president signed an executive order for coastal marine spatial planning and created the National Ocean Council and the regional planning bodies,” Howard said. “We decided to take marine spatial planning seriously….Then I found out, Johnny-come-lately, that [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement] had task forces that were not focused regionally, but were focused on a state-by-state level; that were not comprehensive in nature, but just wind; and did not have all the stakeholders at the table…. So we quickly changed focus and now our participation on the regional planning bodies will be secondary, with our limited resources, and we’ll pay attention to the task forces.”
Howard was referring to the federal government’s new National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes, which was created by Obama last July.
The policy established a National Ocean Council. Coastal and marine spatial planning is a prioritized component of the policy, and its framework divides the nation into nine regional planning areas. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont comprise the Northeast region.
The National Ocean Council has established regional planning bodies in each region that consist of federal, state and tribal representatives to develop regional goals, objectives and regional plans.
Howard said that, in preparation for NEFMC getting into the marine spatial planning process and having fishing interests at the table – “I like to say that every fish is on the menu,” he said – he asked the Northeast Fishery Science Center to prepare data on fishing effort, fishing grounds and other fishery-related matters.
Although NEFMC is now turning its attention to offshore wind, he said, that data will still be helpful on the task forces that have now been established between the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Bureau representatives are scheduled to attend the NEFMC’s next meeting in April, Howard said.
“I’m hoping these task forces will recognize that the regional fishery councils can bring regional experience, experience based on science, experience dealing with stakeholders from commercial fishing interests, and also management responsibility across the regional level,” he said.
Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Hallowell-based Maine Aquaculture Association, told Frank and Howard that the aquaculture industry should also be considered a stakeholder, both in the development of offshore wind and marine spatial planning.
“It’s quite likely that, over time, we will find ourselves operating in federal waters,” Belle said. “We’re often not viewed as stakeholders because we’re not there yet. So in a marine spatial planning exercise, if you’re just documenting current uses but you’re not documenting potential future uses, you may actually be inadvertently excluding an area that may result in significant economic activity, employment and, certainly, help with the seafood trade deficit.”
Bonnie Spinazzola, executive director of the Bedford, N.H.,-based Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, said it will be difficult – but that much more important – to keep the fishing industry in the loop.
“We’re a very segmented group,” she said. “Some of us talk to each other, some of us don’t. Some of us are in New Jersey, some of us are in the mid-Atlantic and some of us are here in Maine. It’s very easy for you to say we’re in front of it but things don’t come down to the fishing industry as you would imagine they do. We haven’t heard anything about anything, pretty much. You have to realize that we need to be much more involved. This is our economy, our bread and butter, this is how we feed our families.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is the federal agency that manages the nation’s natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf. The bureau replaced the former Minerals Management Service in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill disaster last year. The bureau also governs management of the federal government’s Renewable Energy Program.
Camden-based seafood buyer Jim Wadsworth had a dig about the name change.
“Did it have anything to do with the oil spill – or everything to do with it?” he asked Frank. “Why should we be confident in your ability to manage this kind of an industry and protect our fisheries at the same time, based on that experience?”
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