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Offshore wind ban compromise comes out of committee 

AUGUSTA – A compromise has emerged in the state Legislature that would install a permanent ban on wind energy development in state waters and give the fishing industry a seat at the table on any federal projects that want to connect to land through the state’s jurisdiction.

The compromise came from the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, which had been considering a pair of dueling bills on offshore wind. The first was an outright ban of state agencies permitting wind development in the Gulf of Maine proposed by local state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor). The second was a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind power projects in state waters that came from Governor Janet Mills. 

Faulkingham has been the fishing industry’s standard bearer in Augusta, filing his proposed ban and headlining an anti-wind development protest at the civic center. Mills tried to placate fishermen with the moratorium, but many fishermen felt it didn’t go far enough and called for a complete halt to offshore wind projects in Maine. 

Faulkingham said he had been working with state Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) on this compromise and wanted to make sure fishermen had a voice if offshore wind was going to come to fruition.

“It’s a compromise and I’m glad there were some members on the other side willing to deal with me on this,” he said. 

The amendment to the Governor’s bill would permanently ban offshore wind projects in state waters, though there would be a carveout for the in-the-works Monhegan wind project.

The amendment would also create an offshore wind research consortium to “coordinate, support and arrange” research on offshore wind projects, as well as an advisory board that would oversee the development and execution of the research strategy to better understand the effects of offshore wind locally and regionally. 

On that board, there would be two commercial lobstermen representatives, another commercial fisherman, and the state Department of Marine Resources commissioner. 

Although he is still firmly against offshore wind coming to Maine, Faulkingham said the amendment was a good compromise that would give the fishing industry a voice. 

“It basically started off with the template of my bill and added some exemptions,” he said. 

The bill would also set some conditions on approvals for utility cables and transmission lines from projects in federal waters that would run through state waters. While the state can’t control what happens past the state 3-mile line, this provision would give the state some power over what connects to the shore. 

The Governor’s energy office would need to complete a strategic plan to inform development that minimizes conflict with existing maritime industries and preserves existing maritime jobs. The office would also need to review any applicable laws and rules to determine if there are protections for Maine’s coastal resources. The advisory board would need to look at potential research questions for the consortium.

A representative from the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future said they were pleased that a majority of the committee agreed with the basis for their bill and the office was “reviewing the committee’s amendment to make sure it is consistent with the Administration’s careful and measured approach to offshore wind.”

As of press time, the bill was working its way through the House and Senate, with more possible amendments being considered. 

One amendment would require the state to ask the federal government to minimize the impact of a project if it was to be located in the federal lobster management area off Maine and is found to have significant adverse impacts to the fishery.