Wind energy proposals raise more questions among lobstermen and fishermen

First published in the MLA Newsletter, April, 2011.

How fishermen will be involved in the development of offshore wind energy in Maine drew a large number of participants to the offshore wind and marine spatial planning session held on Friday, March 4, at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Concerns ranged from the environmental effects such developments may have on marine species to the process through which the projects will be approved and how involved the fishing industry will be.

Electromagnetic fields and the effects they may have on marine species was brought up by several members of the audience. The concern was what effect electromagnetic fields (produced by the cables from the floating turbines) would have on the migration and health of marine species. Wright Frank, from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulations and Enforcement (BOEMRE), said that BOEMRE is currently conducting a study of the effects such fields will have on marine species, including American lobster. It was brought up that BOEMRE needs to look at all species, but an audience member said that invertebrates are “essentially brain-dead compared to lobster” and since lobsters are very sensitive to environmental changes, they should be the focus of electromagnetic field studies.

Local fishermen’s involvement in the development and placement of offshore wind projects was another concern voiced by the audience. Fisheries are a crucial component of the Maine economy and limited access to fishing sites because of the closed areas around the wind turbines could be detrimental. “If fishermen don’t understand [the process], that’s our fault – outreach has not been sufficient,” stated Dave Beutel, who has been working with fishermen in Rhode Island through Rhode Island Sea Grant on offshore wind issues. He said that in Rhode Island, Sea Grant identified the fishing industry as the most important stakeholder and met with fishermen twice as often as with any other stakeholders.

Image courtesy of DeepC Wind Consortium.

All panel members stressed the importance of keeping the fishing industry informed throughout the process, but many fishermen in the room said they felt left out. One man said that while BOEMRE wasn’t required to include the public, they should still be doing more to urge the stakeholders to join the discussions about the wind projects. “If no one knows about it, how can they comment on anything?” he asked Frank.

Frank’s response was that BOEMRE isn’t hiding anything from the public but, he admitted, they could do better at distributing information. He also reminded everyone that it’s still early in the process and people with concerns – or anyone looking for more information – could contact representatives on the Ocean Energy Task Force.

The task force was established in 2008 by Governor Baldacci to jump-start ocean energy in Maine. After a series of meetings along the coast and evaluation of seven possible offshore sites, the task force selected three final sites in December, 2009. The intent was to install one or two floating turbines with different platform designs at each site. However, currently only one test site is being studied. An area off Monhegan Island has been selected as the site for a scale model of an offshore wind turbine created by the University of Maine.

The waters off Monhegan Island will be the site of the University of Maine’s test turbines. Image courtesy of DeepC Wind Consortium.

The University of Maine released the Maine Deepwater Offshore Wind report on February 23. The report provides an overview of environmental, technical, and socio-economic factors related to the development of offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine. The report also gives the timeline for testing and development of floating turbines in offshore waters. By 2012, the university and DeepCwind Consortium expect to deploy a 1:3 scale model floating turbine at the Monhegan Island site, construct and install two to four more scale models between 2011 and 2015, and by 2013-2016 have five 5-megawatt turbines set up as a “stepping stone” floating farm ten to fifty nautical miles offshore.

Matt Nixon, from the Maine State Planning Office, said his office wants to make sure that fishermen know what is happening as soon as possible. He added that Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Norman Olsen will be looking closely at the communication issues relating to offshore wind. Another audience member mentioned that the fishing industry doesn’t always communicate within itself particularly well – that it is known to have “broken communication” – and more information needs to be available. Nixon said that the DMR has been presenting some information at council meetings, but with the advent of a new administration, staff are waiting for more direction from Commissioner Olsen.

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