In June 2019, Governor Janet Mills created the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative to enable the state of Maine to identify opportunities for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine and to determine how Maine can best position itself to benefit from future offshore wind projects.
The Maine Offshore Wind Initiative was charged with promoting compatibility between potential future and existing uses in the Gulf of Maine, specifically addressing any impact on Maine’s commercial fishing and maritime industries when considering offshore wind sites. In addition, the Offshore Wind Initiative was given responsibility for Maine’s participation in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Gulf of Maine Task Force, which was created last year to identify opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Maine.
In March, Governor Mills identified the port of Searsport as a leading site in Maine to support the transportation, assembly and fabrication of offshore wind turbines and called for a study to further analyze the possibilities. That study is now underway by Moffat and Nichol of Portland. It includes an evaluation of the port’s assets and its future needs to support offshore wind. The study also will include an assessment of the infrastructure specifically needed for floating offshore wind turbines and a market analysis of the East Coast offshore wind industry to understand the level of investment needed. The report is expected by the end of 2020.
We asked Anthony Ronzio, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation & the Future, a few questions about the Initiative. The responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Who is involved in the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative, i.e. which state agencies and people?
The Maine Offshore Wind Initiative is led by the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), in collaboration with several other state agencies, including the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Department of Marine Resources, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Environment, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.
The GEO engages with relevant state and private entities as necessary for specific components of the Initiative. For instance, Governor Mills identified the port of Searsport as a leading site in Maine to support the transportation, assembly and fabrication of offshore wind turbines this past March and called for a study to further analyze this opportunity. The study is currently under way, with the GEO coordinating with the DOT, which is managing the study contract. DOT and the contractor are working with various public and private entities, including the town of Searsport and Sprague Energy (the owner of the terminal), to analyze the potential for Mack Point to support the offshore wind industry.
Dan Burgess, director of the GEO, and Hannah Pingree, Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and Future, are overseeing this the Initiative. The lead staffer at GEO for the Initiative is deputy director Celina Cunningham. Cunningham’s duties include responsibly advancing renewable energy in Maine while prioritizing Maine’s existing natural resources and values. Prior to joining the GEO in March, Cunningham spent more than a decade working in the public sector, including in the Bureau of Ocean Energy BOEM in the U.S. Department of the Interior as well as in the U.S. House of Representatives, handling energy and natural resources issues including fisheries management. Under the Initiative, the GEO engages with policy and technical staff in relevant agencies as needed to ensure that any actions coming out of the Initiative are appropriately informed by the expertise and priorities of other agencies.
What other actions is the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative taking?
In addition to the Searsport study, the GEO, through the Initiative, is monitoring the New England Aqua Ventus project as well as representing Maine in BOEM’s Task Force on developing wind energy in the Gulf of Maine.
Further, the GEO has contracted Laura Singer to informally engage with members of the fishing industry and to work on developing an organizational framework for the Initiative. COVID-19 has impacted the timing of her efforts but a structure for engagement is developing that will include a fisheries working group. The fisheries working group will be a forum in which to share information and advance ideas or address concerns the fishing industry may have.
The GEO is also awaiting a decision from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) , a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, on a grant application to advance offshore wind planning. The grant would be used to take a broad perspective on port and infrastructure assets, manufacturing and supply chain needs, and workforce development, in addition to environmental and fisheries issues. Since the grant has not been awarded yet, we can’t delve into detail, but can say the funds would be used to build a comprehensive plan to advance offshore wind for Maine that is collaborative and has a substantial focus on stakeholder engagement, including fisheries.
How does or will the Initiative address its goal in “promoting compatibility between potential future uses and existing uses in the Gulf of Maine to inform offshore wind siting considerations and minimize any impact on Maine’s commercial fishing and maritime industries”?
Maine’s fishing industry is critical to our state’s economy and to our cultural heritage. The state is committed to work collaboratively with the industry to develop offshore wind while minimizing conflict with fishing interests. This will include open dialogue to identify the areas of greatest concern to members of the industry and to seek ways to address those concerns throughout the process.
Identifying and addressing data gaps and research needs is an important part of the Initiative. While there is a great deal of information available about marine uses and activities in the Gulf of Maine, it is widely acknowledged that there is a large gap in reliable data about the spatial footprint of the Maine lobster fishery. The state also recognizes the need for further collaborative research, which could help us fill important data gaps and develop technology, design, and operational innovations that will help minimize potential impacts.
Through the Initiative, we hope to gather input from the fishing industry so that it can inform the state’s participation in the federal leasing process and ensure that the input from Maine’s fishing industry is considered by BOEM. We will carry this forward in any future activities the state undertakes, including in presentations, meetings, or official comments GEO provides to BOEM.
How does the Initiative contribute to the BOEM task force on wind power development in the Gulf of Maine?
BOEM’s planning and leasing process begins by establishing an Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force in states and regions that have expressed an interest in development of offshore renewable energy. BOEM invited Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to participate in a Gulf of Maine Task Force to identify potential opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Maine. Although the BOEM Task Force membership comprises only government representatives, its meetings are open to the public and stakeholders are encouraged to participate, either in-person or through written comments throughout the process. The GEO is the lead agency for Maine on the Task Force. We participated in the first Task Force meeting, which was held on December 12, 2019.
Going forward, the GEO will provide information to BOEM to be certain that decisions are made in consideration of Maine’s interests, including input from the fishing industry. Throughout the BOEM process, the GEO will work with Maine’s fishing industry and other stakeholders to gather feedback on ideas and concerns and share opportunities for stakeholders to provide input to BOEM. BOEM will gather information through the Task Force that is critical to its decision-making for any offshore wind activities in federal waters.
What form will “solicit the participation of interested stakeholders and the public” take and when?
The Initiative will include a working-group structure, including a fisheries working group. These meetings will be open to public participation. In addition, if the EDA grant is awarded, the state will have resources to conduct broader engagement with the industry and the public to discuss offshore wind and any associated planning efforts.