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Maine lawmakers consider charging ratepayers for some offshore wind development costs

The federal government gave the green light Tuesday to the nation’s first offshore wind energy project, off Martha’s Vineyard.

In Maine, meanwhile, lawmakers are considering whether to charge some costs for this state’s emerging offshore wind sector to electricity ratepayers.

The measure would require state regulators to negotiate a long-term contract for electricity produced by an ocean wind farm proposed by Governor Janet Mills.

The so-called “research array” would test a technology developed at the University of Maine that relies on floating, concrete platforms suited to deep coastal waters. And it could provide data on how such systems would affect local ecosystems and fisheries.

Barry Hobbins, the state’s Public Advocate, told the Legislature’s utilities committee that Mainers should foster the effort.

“The only question is whether Maine leverages this commitment to its advantage while retaining as much control as possible to benefit our entire economy, or whether Maine is a passive bystander,” he said.

Maine’s fishing industries are opposing wind projects within 40 miles of the coast. And one lawmaker said that, as written, the contract measure could amount to a “blank check” paid by consumers. Committee members are expected to submit language that would bolster regulators’ ability to reject unreasonable costs.

The Mills administration is working on a proposal to federal regulators for a 16-square-mile ocean lease, between 20 and 40 miles offshore, for the 12-turbine project.

The array of up to 12 turbines would link to the electricity grid in Yarmouth or Wiscasset.

The Vineyard Wind project just approved by the Biden Administration will feature more than 60 turbines. That project is being co-developed by Central Maine Power’s parent company, Avangrid.