BAR HARBOR – A Gulf of Maine offshore wind power initiative Maine Governor Janet Mills rolled out late last year has raised concern in the lobster fishing community, with Maine Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron telling The Islander that “the area identified by the state of Maine for a potential offshore wind farm is prime fishing bottom for Maine fishermen.”
Mills first announced plans to explore offshore wind development last June, when she signed a bill requiring the Public Utilities Commission to approve a floating offshore wind demonstration project, the first of its kind in the United States. The program, Aqua Ventus, is run through the University of Maine and is funded through $39.9 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Energy.
At the same time, Mills formed the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative, a state-based initiative “to identify opportunities for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine and to determine how Maine can best position itself to benefit from future offshore wind projects,” according to a press release.
More information was released in November. The offshore wind research array would be sited 20 to 40 miles offshore into the Gulf of Maine at a yet-to-be-determined site, where the dozen or fewer gloating wind turbines would cover about 16 square miles of ocean. Maine is filing an application with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, as the array will be farther than 3 miles off the coast in federal waters. According to a Nov. 20 press release, the technology for floating arrays is still being developed, and their effect on marine life and fisheries requires further study.
But while renewable energy sources like wind power herald vastly reduced carbon emissions and a burgeoning job sector, the Gulf of Maine has long been the province of fishermen.
Mills has said the Governor’s Energy Office should “work closely with Maine’s commercial fishing industry, the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and other interested parties to determine the site for the research array.”
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association agrees.
“Prior to any plan for siting offshore wind development or lease solicitation in the Gulf of Maine, it is imperative that the state take action to ensure clear and transparent communications, a robust stakeholder process and a commitment to address the lack of data on what these projects will mean for marine ecosystems and the many fishing communities along our coast,” McCarron wrote to Mills in response to the announcement.
Maine is uniquely positioned to take advantage of wind power as technology advances, as there is potential for enough energy generated from offshore wind to power the entire state, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In addition, the state has set the goal of using renewable energy to supply 80 percent of its needs by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050, with carbon neutrality by 2045, which wind power can help accomplish.
Maine is also taking part in a federally led task force on offshore wind with New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Named the Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Regional, it will seek to identify potential opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Maine, according to a press release issued at the time.
In a second letter to Mills dated Nov. 20, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association stressed a regional approach to window power was needed “rather than race to be the first to plant a flag in the water.” In addition, Maine seeking a federal lease opens the door to private developers who may build larger arrays.
“This precipitous action could effectively cut the fishing industry out of the early planning and siting process and leave many fishermen at risk of losing their livelihoods.”
What this initiative may ultimately mean for the commercial fishing industry is yet to be known. McCarron noted that locations being considered for the array are near where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed a seasonal closure to commercial fishing to protect North Atlantic right whales.
“The ocean is not as vast as people think,” McCarron said. “Fishermen are very worried that fishing jobs will be lost and catches reduced as more boats are squeezed into shrinking areas.”