Gulf of Maine Wind Energy Task Force Holds First Meeting

A federal task force convened on December 12 to begin planning how and where to develop offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine. The process was set in motion in January of 2019, when New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu requested that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) establish an offshore wind Task Force. In response, BOEM established the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force for the Gulf of Maine to include New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine in recognition of the regional nature of offshore energy development.  

In his opening remarks, Governor Sununu promoted the tremendous opportunity of offshore wind to provide jobs clean energy, but stressed the need for all stakeholders to stay engaged in this process. “We’ve got to keep [this process] moving forward; let’s not let it stall. The earlier and faster we do that, the faster we are going to get this thing up and running. I truly believe we are going to be a model for the rest of the country.”  

BOEM is responsible for managing offshore energy resources from the three-mile line to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). James Bennett, BOEM’s Office of Renewable Energy chief, told the audience that there is tremendous potential in the Atlantic region for offshore wind due to the “wind buildable environment and markets unlike any other”. BOEM is looking forward to developing the Gulf of Maine’s world class wind resources in partnership with state leadership.  

Since establishing the regulatory program to establish renewable energy leases in 2009, BOEM has worked over the last decade to identify the best areas for offshore wind development resulting in 15 leases in the Atlantic extending from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Through these leases, BOEM has identified at least a dozen projects slated for development through the 2020’s expected to generate up to 15, 000 jobs as the industry develops. 

BOEM is responsible for giving the green light for any offshore wind development. However, the development of Outer Continental Shelf resources (OCS) requires coordination and info exchange between states. As part of the planning process, BOEM convenes a regional task force to coordinate planning efforts amongst the regional state and federal governments, exchange data and information and discuss concerns. This is a formal process which takes place through the established BOEM regulatory framework. Task Force membership is limited to federal, state and local government as allowed by law, but the public is encouraged to attend and participate. The Task Forces’ role is advisory; all decisions are made by the Secretary of the Interior.  

There are four phases to establish an operational renewable energy project:  

  1. Planning and analysis (up to 2 years): to develop, refine and optimize lease areas and includes the task force, call for information and nominations, area identification, and environmental reviews;  
  1. Leasing (1 to 2 years): to issue a lease and includes proposed sale notice, final sale notice, auction, lease issuance;  
  1. Site assessment (5 years): allows a lessee to conduct a site characterization (geophysical, geological, biological surveys), and create a site assessment plan to assess wind resources (through a meteorological buoy or tower); and 
  1. Construction and operations (2 years, +25): this phase includes construction and operation plan, facility design report, fabrication and installation report, and decommissioning plan 

The Maine delegation for the offshore wind task force was led by Dan Burgess, the Director of the Governor’s Energy Office. Burgess highlighted the significant energy and economic opportunities for Maine presented by offshore wind, but stressed the importance of protecting Maine’s natural resources and the fishing and maritime industries. According to Burgess, “any potential development must fully consider all commercial fishing and maritime interests as well as habitat and natural resources – and seek to minimize impacts and maximize compatibility”.  

Burgess described Governor Mills’ actions to combat climate change and commitment to clean energy solutions. Mills ended the Lepage-era ban on wind power development, withdrew Maine from an offshore drilling coalition, and supported the creation of the Maine Climate Council. Under Mills’ leadership, Maine has committed to a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; and an 80% reduction by 2050. Maine has also committed to an 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. 

Planning for offshore wind development is not new to Maine. Burgess explained that planning began more than 10 years ago when Governor Baldacci created Maine’s Ocean Energy Task Force. In 2009, the Maine Legislature passed laws to streamline and coordinate state permitting for renewable ocean energy technology and to implement the recommendations of the Ocean Energy Task Force.  

During that time, BOEM received an unsolicited request for a commercial wind development lease off the Maine coast from StatOil, but it was ultimately withdrawn in 2012 due to lack of political support. As a result of Maine’s early offshore wind planning efforts, the University of Maine has developed 40 patents for concrete hulls to deploy floating turbines, created Maine AquaVentus and garnered more than $50 million from the Department of Energy.  

But not everyone who spoke at the Task Force meeting is championing offshore wind development. Terry Alexander, a 40 year veteran fisherman from Maine, and board member of RODA (Responsible Offshore Development Alliance), expressed concern over the impacts of offshore wind development on the fishing industry. RODA is a coalition of fishing interests that coordinates with scientists in policy makers to minimize conflicts of proposed offshore wind development with fisheries. RODA’s executive director Annie Hawkins, explained that her research indicates that floating wind projects result in large no fish areas for fishermen because floating platforms take up more space than non-floating platforms. Alexander noted that proper siting of offshore developments is critical.  

There was a lot of excitement amongst Task Force members about the opportunities presented by offshore wind. However, during its closing discussions, members identified a list of concerns which need to be addressed such as filling data and information gaps, addressing technological challenges, and establishing a process to address regional transmission planning and siting. Everyone stressed the need for more information and to establish a process to effectively engage the public and the fishing community.  

Hannah Pingree, director of Maine’s Office of Innovation, stressed the need to get feedback from fishermen early and often, but also the urgency of process. “[The Task Force] needs to make something happen in the next couple of years”.  

FMI: 

BOEM Gulf of Maine Offshore Wind Task Force:  

https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/gulf-maine-intergovernmental-renewable-energy-task-force-meeting

Maine Offshore wind Initiative:  

www.maine.gov/energy/initiatives/offshore-wind.html