Actions by Maine fishermen directly affected the process of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine with a bill signed into law on July 7 by Governor Janet Mills.
The measure was a response to plans that surfaced last year for a 16-square-mile, 12-turbine wind farm, called a “research array,” off the southern coast of Maine.
Proponents promised good jobs and cheap, green electricity. Fishermen weren’t so sure. They envisioned wind farms springing up throughout the Gulf of Maine, harming marine life and damaging coastal communities.
“We as fishermen work and take care of the water,” said Virginia Olsen, a Maine Lobstering Union director who lives in Stonington. “We feel these things will get dumped on the water and then someone will say, ‘Just leave them there, it’ll be a coral reef.’ But it will just be trash left for us.”
Fishermen scored a victory this legislative session with a measure that bans offshore wind turbines in state waters. Lawmakers also prevented the state from allowing wind farms in federal waters to link to the mainland.
But the new measure may only slow, not stop, the spread of wind farms. After three years, it permits wind farms in federal waters to link to the mainland if certain conditions are met.
How it began
The wind farm controversy got stirred up last November when Gov. Mills announced that a consortium planned to build the 16-square-mile array. The consortium includes the University of Maine and a joint venture of two foreign multinational corporations. Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation, and RWE Renewables, a German energy corporation, formed the joint venture called New England Aqua Ventus.
The University of Maine and Aqua Ventus had previously won permission from the state to build a floating wind turbine off the coast of Monhegan. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans to begin constructing it, but in March of this year, survey ships began mapping a path for a cable to link the turbine to Boothbay.
Outraged fishermen, already concerned about looming regulations to protect the Atlantic right whale, made news on March 25 with a protest that included 80 lobster boats lining up along the cable path.
Then, on April 28, hundreds of fishermen held a protest rally in Augusta. That same day, Mills filed a bill that would impose a 10-year moratorium on wind farms in state waters.
That wasn’t good enough for state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a lobster fisherman from Winter Harbor. He filed a bill that would not only ban wind turbines in state waters but also prevent any wind turbines from linking to the mainland.
In the end, lawmakers worked out a compromise. They set up an advisory committee to “oversee the development and execution of a research strategy.” They called it the Offshore Wind Research Consortium and gave fishermen and their organizations seats on the committee.
“It is imperative the fishing industry continue to weigh in as this project advances,” state Rep. Genevieve McDonald, a Stonington lobster fisherman, said in an email.
As part of the compromise, the Monhegan project can still go forward.
But there’s already a committee working on a strategy to bring wind farms to the coast of Maine.
As the governor pushed forward last year with plans to site the 16-square-mile research array, the Governor’s Energy Office got $2.16 million from the federal government for a “roadmap” project to plan offshore wind farms. Scientists and fishermen would have input. Roadmap planners would also evaluate what port facilities and infrastructure the industry would need, and what kinds of jobs it would provide, according to the governor’s office.
Then, on July 12, Mills announced she had identified a site for the research array. It sits on the line between Lobster Zones D and E off the southern Maine coast. The public may comment on the site until July 30. Click here to comment maine.gov/energy/initiatives/offshorewind/researcharray/siting.
In its July newsletter, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington criticized the decision to site a wind farm before finishing the roadmap: “Frankly, the Road Map exercise should have been initiated sooner so that the current plans for a test site off Monhegan Island, and a proposed ‘research array’ off the southern Maine coast could have been informed by the findings of the Road Map process.”
As for that three-year ban on linking wind turbines to the mainland, the new law says it can end if the state meets three criteria.
First, the state must complete Maine’s strategic roadmap—for wind. It must also review Maine laws to make sure they protect the state’s coastline. Finally, the state must make sure the Offshore Wind Research Consortium identifies research questions that need answers about offshore wind.
Virginia Olsen serves on the roadmap committee. A key question, she said, is how the wind turbines’ electromagnetic field affects lobsters.
“None of us [fishing representatives] are advocating for offshore wind,” she said. “We’ve got to find a way somehow to move the discussion forward, and I’m really not sure how that’s going to work.”
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