Maine Governor Janet Mills, D, has called on the state legislature to implement a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind projects in state-managed waters, citing a need to keep the fishing industry engaged in ongoing talks about such development.
In a letter to the state's professional fishermen, Mills indicated she opposed commercial-scale offshore wind projects in areas near the state's shoreline, which she said support the majority of the state's fishing activity. However, she also expressed support for offshore wind development in federal waters further from shore.
A draft of the proposed moratorium is not yet available and so it is not yet clear how such legislation would impact existing offshore proposals, including a proposed floating turbine demonstration project by the University of Maine and New England Aqua Ventus, according to an attorney for the University of Maine System. The project would be the country's first offshore floating wind array, ahead of broader intentions for floating wind turbine development off the coast of California.
A moratorium on offshore wind development, according to the governor, could serve to give the state, the fishing industry and the electric industry more time to work out effective means of mitigating the impact of offshore wind development on fisheries.
In a Jan. 22 letter to professional fishermen and fishing organizations, Mills asked the industry to "remain at the table for what I know are hard conversations" about offshore wind development. Mills assured the fishermen that she understood their concerns, and agreed that "commercial-scale offshore wind projects do not belong in state waters that support the majority of the State's lobster fishing activity, and that provide important habitat for coastal marine and wildlife species." To ensure proper consideration of these concerns, she said, she plans to submit for consideration legislation that would place a 10-year moratorium on all new offshore development in state waters.
In a separate, Jan. 25 release from the governor's office, state officials indicated the moratorium would help keep ongoing discussions of offshore wind research focused by eliminating concern about the imminence of larger-scale projects.
"This moratorium is an important step that will allow us to continue to alleviate concerns expressed by fishermen and will give us an opportunity to have a more focused conversation around the proposed research array," Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a statement. "We will continue to work to see that all stakeholders are afforded the opportunity to have a voice in the decision-making process. Maine fishermen are vital to our state’s economy and heritage and I applaud Governor Mills’ decision to support their opportunity for input into the shared use of our state’s valuable marine resources."
Without a draft of the proposed moratorium, University of Maine legal counsel Jeff Thaler said it was difficult to determine what impact the moratorium could have on the offshore demonstration project planned for construction in a state-designated area two miles south of Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine.
"As a permitted project, this [floating wind turbine demonstration] would not be subject to the proposed 10-year moratorium," according to the governor's press release. Stakeholders including Thaler await to see if a draft moratorium includes language for a carve-out of the project.
Ben Martens, executive director of the Main Coast Fishermen's Association, said in a Jan. 12 blog post that the demonstration project proposal came as a "shock" to the fishing industry, and "left many fishermen scrambling to understand how to engage, where to engage, and how to process the proposal's impact on their lives, businesses, families and communities."
"I'm not trying to be hyperbolic," he wrote, "but I don't believe it is an exaggeration to suggest that offshore wind will be the most impactful issue to face Maine's fishing fleet since the transition to limited-entry fishing permits. Carving up the ocean to create energy, not food, is going to be a seismic change to how every fishery, from lobster to tuna to menhaden to scallop to groundfish, has to operate."
Thaler acknowledged that offshore wind development could come with impacts to the fishing industry, primarily by curtailing fishing beneath the turbines and in areas where cables are run between offshore developments and on-shore cities and towns. However, he said the impact would be relatively minimal given the scale of the research project compared to the scale of Maine's fisheries, and said the University of Maine and its partner in the venture, New England Aqua Ventus, had already reached a settlement with Monhegan Island to compensate the community for the project's potential impact. New England Aqua Ventus is a joint venture of RWE Renewables and Mitsubishi subsidiary Diamond Offshore Wind.
Under the community benefit agreement, Thaler said the demonstration project partners have agreed to pay $2 million into a designated energy and broadband infrastructure fund for Monhegan Island, in addition to $40,000 a year for municipal support and royalties for any renewable energy credits the project might receive. The University of Maine and its developer partners have also made a commitment to avoid operating any commercial-scale project within 15 miles of the island.
Thaler said these measures were intended in part to reassure the island community that the floating array demonstration project would not become "a foot in the door to then have this huge wind project 3-4 miles off the island."
However, he said those concerns surfaced once again in a recent series of webinars on the topic of offshore wind, due to a rumor that a California developer had expressed interest in constructing a 100 MW project less than three miles off the state's coastline.
Although there is no serious proposal for such a project on the table, Thaler said he believed discussion of this rumor may have played a role in prompting the governor to propose a moratorium on development. However, because Maine is among the first U.S. states to grapple with the question of offshore wind impacts, Thaler said it was possible that other states facing similar conflicts, such as New York and other Atlantic coast states, could look to Maine for lessons on how to manage fisheries and offshore development.