Maine Receives Federal Grant To Explore Offshore Wind Future

On October 1, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced an award of $2.166 million to the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) to develop a roadmap for offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine. The EDA grant will be matched with $267,624 in state funds and $112,457 in local funds.
Celina Cunningham, deputy director of GEO, will be coordinating the offshore wind development planning project.

“The award is an opportunity for the state and stakeholders to develop a holistic, comprehensive road map and plan for advancing offshore wind in the state in compatibility with existing uses,” she said in a recent interview. “There is a lot of interest in offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. This is an opportunity to make sure that if and when offshore wind projects occur, Maine’s interests come first. It will allow Maine to be proactive about where and how wind development occurs as compared to other interests.”

Developing a road map for offshore wind industry growth will involve representatives from many different sectors. “While many sectors will be represented in the roadmap, the fishing community’s participation and collaboration is critical to helping us make sure Maine’s interests are represented with the federal government, developers, and other states as we go forward,” said Tony Ronzio, deputy director of the Governor’s Office on Policy Innovation and the Future.

Plans for offshore wind farms are popping up throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic states.

At an October workshop on wind energy and science organized by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), noted that there are currently 16 active wind leases that have been permitted by BOEM, stretching from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod. Block Island Wind has been operating off Block Island, Rhode Island, since 2016. Vineyard Wind, a $2.8 billion wind project in Massachusetts, is undergoing a cumulative impacts analysis by BOEM, the results of which are due this December. The 804-megawatt Mayflower Wind project continues to move ahead in the state, with plans to be online in 2025. New York and New Jersey have announced a combined target of 16.5 gigawatts of wind energy production between them by 2035, with plans for additional offshore wind solicitations later this year.

Far offshore, however, only one wind project has been completed. Dominion Energy finished construction this fall of Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind in federal waters 27 miles off Virginia Beach. The two turbine, 12-megawatt pilot project will provide the company with operational information to move on to a 2,600-megawatt wind farm, scheduled for construction in 2024.

The EDA award will give Maine the opportunity to plan for a future that is just over the horizon, that of floating wind turbines located in deep water. To date, there are no such turbines in the U.S. Hywind Scotland Equinor has been operating 6-megawatt floating turbines off Scotland since 2017 and is currently developing a second floating wind farm located in the North Sea. The University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center tested its floating wind turbine design, called VolturnUS, in 2013 off Castine; that design will be the basis for the 12-megawatt turbine installation, called New England Aqua Ventus, three miles off Monhegan Island.

Offshore wind farms have not yet taken place in the Gulf of Maine, but pressure is building for their development.
AP photo.

“The road map is a means to grow an industry,” Cunningham said. “This is a window of opportunity to reach the next level of development. In the Gulf of Maine, offshore wind has to be floating turbines.”
Maine’s forest industry recently completed an EDA-funded economic road map for that sector. Forest Opportunity Roadmap/Maine (FOR/Maine) drew on a collaboration among industry, communities, government, education, and non-profits to focus on the future of Maine’s forest industry, which had suffered economically in past decades. The aim of the group’s work was to ensure that the state strategically adapts and capitalizes on changing markets and to maintain a leading role in the global forest economy. FOR/Maine completed its road map in 2018, with five principal goals. In September 2019, the EDA awarded the University of Maine $1.1 million to support the FOR/Maine coalition in implementing the roadmap to stabilize, diversify and grow Maine’s forest economy by 40% over the next five years.

The state also received another $2 million EDA grant in April to help develop an economic roadmap and action plan for the state’s marine economy. The award provides funding to support Maine’s Marine Economy initiative, a three-year project to match Maine’s marine-related products with global markets and to attract investment in new markets. The new project, called Seafood Economic Accelerator for Maine (SEAMaine), is overseen by the Maine Technology Institute and FocusMaine; the Island Institute in Rockland is managing the program.

So what will the offshore wind development road map look like? The answer to that will be determined by those who will be involved in the project. “We will set up a structure with subject-specific working groups,” Cunningham said. “This will be a stakeholder-driven process. The structure also will serve us through the duration of the state’s interaction with BOEM.” The Gulf of Maine Offshore Wind Task Force was formed in 2019 to identify opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development in the Gulf of Maine. The Task Force, with representatives from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, will offer a unified perspective to BOEM on offshore wind development in the region.

The significant water depths of the Gulf of Maine mean that any offshore wind turbines will likely float on the ocean surface. Image courtesy of Courthousenews.com.

To create the economic road map, the project will examine Maine’s port and infrastructure assets and needs, manufacturing and supply chain needs, workforce development, as well as environmental and fisheries issues. The project will officially launch in early 2021. “The process is meant to represent Maine fishermen. The more we know about where their concerns are, the better we can represent them with BOEM,” added Ronzio.

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