Maine lawmakers close to bipartisan deal to ban offshore wind in state waters
After seven months of contention over Gov. Janet Mills’ efforts to accelerate wind power development off the coast of Maine, some compromises are emerging in Augusta, including a permanent ban on wind projects in state waters.
Mills angered the Maine lobster industry last year, when it proposed a 16 square mile “research network” comprising up to 12 turbines to float in federal waters 20 miles or more away. the coast – in partnership with the University of Maine and the international wind developers.
This year, she proposed a 10-year moratorium on wind projects closer to shore, in state waters. Basically, this area stretches about three miles off the coast – and that’s where the majority of Maine’s lobster fishing fleet operates. Some fishermen supported the moratorium, but most said it did not go far enough.
“I worked across the aisle to try to make a bill that gives the fishing industry a seat at the table,” Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Republican and Lobster said. of Winter Harbor.
He has been a standard bearer in the industry’s struggle against the ocean wind. This month, Faulkingham won unanimous support from a key committee to turn the governor’s time-limited moratorium on coastal wind projects into a permanent ban.
Faulkingham declined to comment further, pending the final drafting of the measure. But Representative Nicole Grohoski, a Democrat from Ellsworth who sits on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said the compromise includes several measures designed to protect the state’s fishing interests, all by encouraging the development of clean energies.
“I hope this sends a signal that we understand their concerns and that they are real, and we want to make sure that they are addressed through this process,” Grohoski said.
In addition to the ban on wind development in state waters, the amended bill would establish an advisory board to set the scientific priorities of the “research” wind farm. This panel would include at least three representatives from the lobster and fishing industries.
Grohoski said that while the state cannot dictate rules for federal waters, lawmakers still wish to use their authority to control whether the research project or any other could be linked to the mainland.
“The amended bill does not allow any cables or transmission lines associated with offshore wind to cross our territorial waters, until certain planning and research milestones have been reached,” Grohoski said. “So I really worked hard on this amendment because it is important to me that the state carefully consider current and possible future uses of the Gulf before going ahead with any further development.”
Before a power line crossing state waters or related land infrastructure can be built, she said, the state would first need to complete a strategic plan to minimize conflict with maritime industries, by particularly fishing, as well as the potential effects on the ecosystem.
A full review of whether state laws are strong enough to protect coastal resources and users would also be needed. And a fund to pay for preliminary research questions identified by the advisory board is to be established, with an initial allocation of $ 1 million.
“You know, if it’s going to go forward, it’s improvements. But at first glance, we’re disappointed to see this come out the door with so many unanswered questions looming for the fishing industry, ”said Patrice McCarron, executive director of Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
McCarron said the proposal could ensure fishermen’s views are more closely integrated into the state’s planning for the 12-turbine project and beyond.
She said this should help fishermen make their case to federal regulators when they consider proposals for much larger-scale commercial wind farms. But McCarron also said fishermen and their allies are losing confidence that their interests will ultimately be protected – marking a shift in their historical sense of political influence.
“We now find ourselves in a place where we feel very marginalized. And it seems to me that the desire to develop offshore wind has clouded people’s ability to hear and understand the concerns that the fishing industry raises, ”said McCarron.
The compromise measure includes a waiver of the coastal project ban to allow a single turbine experimental platform near Monhegan Island to go ahead, something Faulkingham initially opposed.
It is also expected to support a related measure that would allow state regulators to contract energy contracts with developers of the 12-turbine research network, New England Aqua-Ventus, at above-market prices. This contract would be paid for by consumers’ electricity bills.
The Mills administration said it was reviewing the committee’s work to ensure it was in line with its “prudent and measured approach” to offshore wind energy development.
This article appears as part of a media partnership with Public of Maine.
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