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Janet Mills proposes 10-year moratorium on wind development in Maine-managed waters

Gov. Janet Mills is calling for a 10-year moratorium on new ocean-based wind-energy projects in state waters – and she’s promising a modest slowdown of a state-led effort to site 12 turbines in federal waters. The moves come after concerns raised by the state’s commercial fishing industry.

Mills announced in late November the state would seek to place a “research array” of 12 floating wind turbines off Maine’s coast in federal waters, at least 20 miles offshore. Soon after, her administration was contacted by a California developer, Trident Winds, interested in siting a wind farm within the three-mile line that demarks state-managed waters.

But Mills now is asking the Legislature to take that prospect or any inshore wind development off the table for 10 years.

“This is greater than just one project; it’s about ensuring that the priority here is really about the research array in federal waters,” says Dan Burgess, who directs Mills’ energy office.

Burgess says the administration wants to protect the inshore waters where most Maine fishermen operate. At the same time, he says, the moratorium would allow a focus on the 12-turbine proposal for federal waters.

“It’s a sensible proactive measure to protect heavily fished state waters, advance the research array application and focus offshore wind applications where we believe the opportunity for Maine is the greatest,” he says.

The 12-turbine array would be developed by a consortium that includes the University of Maine and international development companies, building on experience gained from a single-turbine project to be developed off Monhegan Island.

The administration had said it would choose a 16-square-mile site off southern Maine and apply for a federal lease as soon as March or April. Fishermen complained that was rushing a process that could set long-term precedent and harm the industry. Burgess now says the timeline is being extended.

“We had said kind of late winter or early spring and the governor in her letter indicated she would be allowing for a few more months for additional input from the industry,” he says.

Burgess declined to be more specific about a new deadline. In a letter emailed to members of the state’s fishing industries, Mills acknowledged that she and they might not see eye-to-eye on offshore wind. But she promised to create a working group of those in the industry who might be affected to advise the lease-siting process.

Some Maine fishermen are taking some comfort from the governor’s recent moves. Dustin Delano, vice president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, says the inshore moratorium is a good idea. But in an appearance on Maine Calling’s Monday, he said worries about any large-scale wind project remain.

“When we start talking about these giant spatial wind fields that take up lots of room, it starts to really make us wonder if maybe my generation will be the last generation to be part of this heritage that Maine displays,” he said.

Project supporters say a prime goal for the relatively small 12-turbine project would be to explore the effects the technology could have on fisheries, and to put Maine in the driver’s seat for solving challenges before larger scale projects start coming in.

Sarah Haggerty, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Audubon Society, says offshore wind projects will have habitat effects but also can play an vital role in addressing climate change.

“That’s why we see this research array as actually really important, so that we can gather some information, because we know that offshore wind is coming, it’s going to be in federal waters, it’s going to be a lot bigger than this. We really need to gather information so that we can do our best to help this industry avoid minimize impacts to wildlife and habitats for the long haul,” she says.

In a press release, the Mills administration notes that the project would likely plug into the regional electricity grid at the former Maine Yankee site in Wiscasset, or at a power station on Yarmouth’s Cousins Island. The next virtual meeting to start scoping out possible sites at sea is set for Feb. 5.

In her letter to fishermen, Mills says small, in-person meetings will be held before a lease application is made, “if Covid-19 numbers decline.”