Monhegan residents, fishermen and environmental groups packed a committee room in Augusta Tuesday to testify on a bill that would cancel the University of Maine’s proposed 12-megawatt floating offshore wind project sited about 3 miles from Monhegan.
LD 1262, sponsored by Sen. Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty.), would prohibit the placement of wind turbines within 10 nautical miles of the Monhegan Lobster Conservation Area.
Since 2009, Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV) – a consortium of private and public entities led by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center – has been developing the floating wind pilot project. If successful it would be the first commercial-scale offshore floating wind project in the Americas. In 2013, MAV scaled up the project from a small demonstration model to two 586-foot-tall turbines, upsetting a number of residents.
A handful of islanders testified that they support alternative energy research, just not near Monhegan. Speaking in favor of Dow’s bill, Monhegan resident Andrea Iannicelli said that Monhegan has some of the last wild places left in midcoast Maine and “keeping parts of our earth truly wild is important to our existence.” Monhegan resident Paul Hitchcox argued that islanders never had a chance to oppose the turbines and that he is against “putting two enormous killing machines directly in the path of migrating birds.” Joyce Blakney, a summer visitor to Monhegan, said she helped fund the effort to oppose the wind project with her late husband’s life insurance money.
“My heart and soul are on that island,” said Blakney. “His heart would be broken if he knew that this project was going to go forward after all.”
LePage administration energy director Angela Monroe said the governor’s office supports LD 1262 because the test project would require above-market electrical rates to get off the ground. “It is like a bird in the hand in that the costs are known, but the benefits are in the bush,” said Monroe.
However, several Monhegan residents testified that LD 1262 amounts to an end-run around a citizen engagement process between the islanders and the University of Maine. In 2013, plantation residents formed the Monhegan Energy Task Force to communicate with the university and hold public informational meetings about the project. Plantation residents voted 30 to 1 last summer to hire experts to assist in negotiating a benefits package for the island with UMaine.
“This bill that is before you today never went through that process and therefore is not representative of the view or will of my community,” said Monhegan First Assessor Tara Hire. “This bill subverts the democratic process that has been established by the plantation officers and takes away the voice of my community, a voice that we have worked very hard to have heard.”
Stonington lobsterman Julie Eaton of the Maine Lobstering Union, which does not represent any members on Monhegan, testified in support of the bill out of concerns that undersea cables could harm lobsters and “cripple our fisheries in unimaginable ways.” However, the Monhegan Fishermen’s Alliance, which represents all seven lobstermen on the island, opposes the bill and supports the UMaine-led wind project. Monhegan lobsterman Doug Boynton said the project would be “an opportunity to find out if wind turbines and commercial fishing can co-exist and Monhegan is a perfect place to do this.”
Lobsterman Chris Smith, who runs the island’s diesel-powered utility, said the Monhegan Plantation’s Power District’s three-member board also opposes the ban because it would prohibit the district from potentially investing in wind power. Monhegan currently imports 35,000 gallons of diesel fuel to power the island, which pays five times as much for electricity as residents on the mainland. The MAV project proposes to offer free power to the island.
University representatives testified that the bill would effectively kill the project and cause the state to lose out on $40 million in federal funding along with the creation of thousands of local jobs. Dr. Habib Dagher also cited a National Renewable Energy Lab study which found that UMaine’s technology could eventually get wind-generated electricity costs so low they could compete without subsidies.
“What’s not possible,” said Dagher, “is undoing 10 years of work, tens of millions of dollars in investment and the opportunity for Maine to create a whole energy future.”