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Offshore wind opponents unmoved by governor’s proposed 10-year ban

AUGUSTA – Christopher McIntire, a lobsterman out of Harpswell, doesn’t want to see the Gulf of Maine become a “floating test tube” for offshore wind energy, whether it’s 3 miles from shore or 30.

McIntire was one of hundreds gathered outside the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday to protest offshore wind power development in Maine, with particular emphasis on a proposed 16-acre, 12-turbine floating research array, which state officials are touting as the first of its kind proposed for the United States.

The array, which is being evaluated for the area around Platts Bank, is between 20 and 40 miles offshore in federal waters, and therefore would not be subject to Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed 10-year moratorium on new wind projects in state waters, for which a bill was announced Wednesday. Also excluded would be the already permitted New England Aqua Ventus demonstration project, a single floating turbine expected to be built off Monhegan Island in the next two years.

The proposed moratorium would set aside state waters, which extend up to 3 miles from shore, for fishing and recreation and would focus commercial-scale wind project development in federal waters off the Gulf of Maine for at least the next decade.

According to the Mills administration, the ban protects the majority of the state’s lobstermen, roughly 75 percent of whom fish within state waters.

But lobstermen, who are asking the state to pump the brakes on the plans, aren’t just concerned with losing valuable ocean bottom – they say they are worried there haven’t been enough studies done on how the wind turbines would impact the environment and marine life.

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, a fisherman, said he fully supports green energy but opposes the previously announced wind projects.

“We fishermen are great stewards of the environment because we depend on it to make a living,” he said, but the windmills, which he called “gigantic pieces of garbage,” are anything but green.

“They are a terrible idea for the marine environment,” Faulkingham said.

Matt Gilley, a lobsterman out of Harpswell, said that as an inshore fisherman, the windmills likely won’t directly impact him. Still, Gilley said he’s against “putting an untested power plant in the Gulf of Maine.”

“I understand that we need to do something to address climate change, but putting (in) offshore wind turbines … is not the answer,” he said. “I love to fish, I want to continue fishing, but I also do not want to see my environment destroyed by offshore monstrosities.”

Julie Rabinowitz, executive director of Maine People Before Politics, speaking on behalf of former Gov. Paul LePage, expressed similar concerns.

“We know there are environmental impacts – we don’t know what those environmental impacts are,” she said.

In October, the state received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to advance an economic roadmap for establishing Maine as an offshore wind power industry leader.

The roadmap will, among other things, help the state “develop a deeper understanding of existing ocean uses, especially commercial fishing, as well as habitat and environmental impacts and undertake collaborative research that help inform offshore wind planning and siting to mitigate potential impacts.”

The fishing industry is asking the state to complete the roadmap – currently slated for late 2022 – before any floating wind industrial sites are selected in the Gulf of Maine.

Andrew Dorr, Vinalhaven’s town manager, said Wednesday that the research array needs to be “reviewed and pursued with only the best interest of the commercial fishing industry in mind.”

He asked state officials to slow down and work with the industry as they move forward.

It is imperative, he said, “that the people that are part of the long heritage and protection of the ocean be given a voice to ensure its future success.”