Maine Gov. Janet Mills has signed compromise legislation to permanently bar future development of offshore wind projects in state waters. At the same time, momentum is building behind her plan to develop, for research purposes, a 16-square mile wind farm in federal waters.
A previously approved, single-turbine wind project off Monhegan Island is moving forward. But otherwise, the new law will bar any other wind-energy development within state waters - about three miles of the coast.
Mills had initially proposed only a 10-year moratorium, but agreed to make it permanent after lawmakers negotiated a deal that aimed to strengthen the position of Maine lobstermen who are watching the emerging offshore wind industry muscle into their territory.
"The prohibition preserves state waters for recreation and other fishing where the majority of Maine's lobster harvesting occurs," says Dan Burgess, who directs the Governor's Energy Office. He says that within a week the administration will announce its preferred location for a 16-square mile area in federal waters where the state and private wind developers want to construct a wind farm of up to 12 turbines.
That project will research the commercial viability of novel floating-platform technology developed at the University of Maine, and its potential effects on ecosystems and fisheries. As part of the legislative deal, the administration agreed to allow at least two representatives of the lobster industry to be included on a panel that will guide the research.
"The research array allows us to conduct further research and answer those critical questions about floating platforms, and doing so in this way prior to any commercial development of considerations is important, and kind of puts Maine in the driver's seat as we think about floating offshore wind," Burgess says.
The project will be developed by major international energy companies and funded by Maine electricity consumers. The legislative package allows for state regulators to accept above-market prices, but at the "lowest reasonable cost" needed to make sure the project can get financing needed for construction and operation.
Meanwhile, the state is also formally launching a multi-year process to create a "Roadmap" for large-scale commercial wind development off Maine. Critics say that should have been done before moving the research project forward.