Fishermen in the Kennebunks and throughout Maine are in the fight of their lives now and are asking for the public’s support.
Gov. Janet Mills’ LD 994 law required the Public Utilities Commission to approve an experimental offshore wind farm with Maine Aqua Ventus/Diamond Offshore Wind. The research array would be up to 40 miles in size in prime fishing areas. Some see this as a step in the right direction for the environment; others, including many fishermen, fear it will do just the opposite.
Some fishermen voiced concerns during a recent series of webinars. According to Dustin Delano, another meeting was scheduled, yet cancelled last minute by Diamond Offshore CEO Chris Wissemann, who said he would not be speaking if “certain fishermen” were involved.
I reached out to the Maine Department of Marine Resources for answers. My questions were directed to Anthony Ronzio, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. Partial responses were given.
Q. The state of Maine is partnering with a commercial energy company to produce power being sold to for profit. Why is this project being touted as a “research array” and not considered a commercial operation?
A. “The array is a public-private partnership to advance research and development of offshore wind. The state is working with New England Aqua Ventus, a partnership of two offshore wind development companies, and the University of Maine to utilize its floating offshore wind turbine technology. The array is a research array for several reasons, including its relatively small size – it is approximately 10% or less the area of most of the commercial wind projects proposed on the East Coast. The array will also be intentionally sited, designed and operated with the primary intent of research, which makes it much different from commercial projects.
In addition to research into effects on fisheries and the marine environment, the array will also research how the floating technology generates and transmits power, which is why it will be connected to the grid. The proceeds of the sale of that energy will help fund the ongoing research. Most important, this research array is a prudent, proactive step for the State of Maine, the fishing industry, and other marine interests to work together on the future of offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine.
With clear interest now by commercial-scale wind developers to come to the Gulf – which has among the highest, sustained wind speeds in the world – the research array would allow the interests and values of Maine people to determine the industry’s direction.”
Ryder Noyes, lobsterman and tuna fisherman, with a giant bluefin tuna caught on his boat F/V Shirley Girl whose homeport is Cape Porpoise.
Q. Where will the energy generated be sold?
A. “While we are collecting data and input on the general areas of a cable, these decisions will not be made until well after the location of the array is identified and the lease is awarded. The array will most likely connect to the grid at either Wyman Station in Yarmouth or Maine Yankee in Wiscasset, which will require approval from the grid manager, ISO-NE, in a process that will take years.
Then, any future arrangement with a potential purchaser of the array’s electricity will go through the Maine Public Utilities Commission, including final negotiations of terms of the contract and how revenue will be allocated.”
Groundfisherman Knoep Nieuwkerk who owns the boat F/V Hannah Jo, with his daughter Hannah, and granddaughter Julia at Government Wharf in Kennebunkport.
Q. Will there be a no fish zone as is the case in European wind array zones?
A. “We cannot comment on the approach of European regulators regarding offshore wind, but it is a stated goal of this project to avoid or greatly minimize any restrictions on fishing. The state is committed to work with fishermen to understand all the potential effects from the presence of offshore wind. This is the central purpose of why we are proposing a limited research array, so we can work collectively on research to minimize those effects. The state and developer of the research array, New England Aqua Ventus, intend to allow fishing around and between turbines, through methods such as how the turbines in the array are arranged, but additional conversations and potentially collaborative research with the industry will be needed to determine to what extent fishing will be able to occur near the array.”
Laurin Brooks, lobsterman and tuna fisherman, with a giant bluefin tuna caught on his boat the F/V Seaworthy, which is homeported in Kennebunkport.
Q. What affect does miles of buried underwater cable have on the environment? What has been done to take into consideration the destruction of eco-systems and marine habitat of the very fish fishermen are targeting, such as lobster, scallop and ground fish?
Q. What is the cost to disturb the ocean floor for cables and how will it be done?
Q. What chemicals coat underwire cables?
Q. How do electro-magnetic currents affect marine life?
A. “This project will have relatively low voltage cable, like the one that connects the mainland to Vinalhaven and North Haven. Some research has already been done on higher voltage cables, and there is peer-reviewed literature available. It will be difficult to test these impacts in situ here given the voltage of this project, so the state is looking at research opportunities in the Southern New England region to help inform our understanding of potential impacts from the higher voltage cables associated with commercial scale projects. Existing cables in Maine and the region may provide an opportunity to study these impacts before construction of the research array.”
Q. How can end lines used in lobster fishing pose a threat to right whales, but a wind array does not?
A. “The proposed restricted area including in the current rulemaking process for right whale protections does not overlap with the proposed area being explored for the research array. But as the first floating offshore wind research array in the country, studying how the technology co-exists with the marine environment – especially endangered and protected species – is a research priority. By closely monitoring potential interactions with whales and other ocean species, in collaboration with fishermen and scientists, will help understand the effects of this new technology and avoid and minimize harms. While data is limited on the right whale, the federal government did conduct a study related to humpback whales and floating technology. Please note that for the research array, the intent is to bury the cables between the turbines.”
Q. With right whale regulation struggles, international trade tariffs on lobster, and a global pandemic, restrictions and regulations prohibiting the numbers of days fishermen can fish and catch limits, is now an ideal time for an experimental wind array when fishing families and an entire industry will potentially be severely affected?
A. “We absolutely recognize and appreciate how the pandemic, the trade issues, and the regulatory process regarding right whales are major concerns for the fishing industry. Offshore wind development is a much longer-term process, though, which we are beginning to be proactive and prudent prior to commercial-scale development being proposed for the Gulf. It will be at least five years before research with the Gulf of Maine array may begin.
The research array is Maine’s chance to get ahead of commercial-scale development in coordination with fishermen to fully understand the potential implications of offshore wind in a process that Maine can control. In addition, a decade of research and development at the University of Maine into floating offshore technology – which is likely how wind energy in the Gulf of Maine must be harnessed, given water depths, has Maine on the precipice of not only being a major source of power, but a center for innovation in offshore wind that has significant economic potential for the state. By no means does this minimize the real, near-term concerns of fishermen. But the reality facing Maine is that offshore wind energy, in waters managed by the federal government, likely heading for the Gulf of Maine because it is home to some of the highest, sustained wind speeds in the world, the demand for new sources of renewable energy is growing, and market for offshore wind energy is increasing along the East Coast where 25,000 megawatts are now in the development pipeline.”
Dustin Delano owns the F/V Knotty Lady, which is homeported in Friendship.
Q. The Block Island, Rhode Island, wind farm energy is the most expensive option at $6500 per kw., 24.4 cents per kw hour the first year, with 3.5% increases every year. Consumers of Block Island wind power continue to take them to court about this. What steps have been taken to assure the cost of the windfarm energy will not be substantially higher for Mainers?
Q. Why are there so many unanswered/unknown questions in the responses?
“The responses are the best and most detailed I can provide at this time. But you are right – there are many unknowns. I do want to stress that is why we are proposing a research array – to research the technology, the costs of power, the cabling, the interactions with fishing and marine life, etc. I can’t answer what we don’t yet know.”
Fishermen are asking the public to support LD 101, to stop the experimental wind array. For more information about that bill, visit legiscan.com.
Shellley Wigglesworth writes the Kennebunk Town Column monthly in the York County Coast Star.
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