Due to the speed with which the state of Maine was pushing an application to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for an offshore lease in order to construct a wind energy research array in waters off southern Maine, six fishing industry organizations and more than 300 individual fishermen joined with the Responsible Offshore Development Association to send a letter in early January to Governor Mills expressing their profound concern. The text of the letter follows.
January 7, 2021
Dear Governor Mills,
Maine’s fishing community maintains serious concerns about current offshore wind energy (OSW) efforts envisioned for the Gulf of Maine (GOM). To begin constructive dialogue, the fishing community supports the creation of an inclusive planning process and research program over the rapid implementation of commercial-scale OSW facilities. The industry strongly urges you to prioritize a thorough review of Maine’s OSW statutes and regulations as a more measured first step to ensure the state has the tools in place to minimize potential harms and maximize the benefits of OSW to the people of Maine.
On April 14th, 2020, approximately 50 GOM fishing industry and community leaders submitted a letter to you, Governor Sununu, and Governor Baker regarding GOM OSW development, and we appreciate your April 29th response. Since the time of that correspondence, the State of Maine announced its plan to pursue a floating OSW “research array” and held four informational webinars about the project from December 15-22, 2020. Maine’s fishing community members raised many questions during the informational meetings and unfortunately, received too few answers.
We are troubled that the timeline for the state’s proposed research array allows for neither adequate planning nor engagement with the fishing community. We ask you to consider adjusting your approach to ensure the timeline and research plans will support meaningful fishing community collaboration. We are willing to work, in good faith, with the state on the research array to consider outcomes that may minimize impacts to fishing practices and provide much-needed socioeconomic and environmental data. However, this is only possible if we have a reasonable timeline and planning process to complete this work.
In December, the Department of the Interior (DOI) clarified its policy prioritizing the requirement to minimize OSW impacts to fishing operations through a legal memorandum. The memo states that “[n]owhere does the statute indicate that the Secretary is only to prevent interference with the legal right to navigate or fish in an area. It is the Secretary’s job to provide for the prevention of interference with those uses” (emphases added). In practice, this means that OSW projects cannot be approved unless they do not unreasonably interfere with fishing activity. As pointed out during all four informational webinars, given the significant fishing occurring in the GOM, and the relative lack of fine-scale spatial data, the risk of unreasonable interference would greatly increase if a project is rushed and does not include close coordination with fishing experts. Given our concerns, we respectfully offer the following requests.
The state should start with a review and update its statutes and regulations for OSW development and use its CZMA authority
If Maine truly intends to take “a measured, deliberative approach that allows the State to engage the fishing community expertise to minimize potential harms and maximize the benefits to Maine people from offshore wind” as expressed in the state’s OSW announcement, we believe the State has the most to gain from a prompt and thorough review of Maine’s OSW statutes and regulations to ensure that they reflect Maine’s values, prioritize research, and protect Maine’s world-renowned fishing industry. Would it be possible for the Governor’s Energy Office to conduct this work as a first step in its Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap plan? This information is critical to ensure that Maine has the tools in place that it will need to ensure that any OSW developments occur in a manner that benefits Maine’s economy, climate goals, culture, and heritage.
The State has indicated that its primary motivation for rushing the consultation process on its research array is to submit an application before a commercial-scale developer does. It is true that substantially more information is needed about the environmental and economic effects of floating OSW before permitting any project, and research should be heavily prioritized as commercial developments are contemplated. However, even research planning must proceed reasonably and along realistic timelines. Maine must prioritize research as an important component of any offshore wind development and developers must understand that it is part of the cost of building the project.
Federal permitting of OSW projects does not occur in a vacuum. Maine holds authority under the Coastal Zone Management Act to review projects for consistency with its coastal policies. This means that any proposed OSW project that impacts the Maine coastal zone—whether to environmental resources or economic use—cannot proceed unless the state determines that it is compliant with the state’s goals and regulations. It is therefore possible for the State to ensure that research and commercial projects are well executed, by prioritizing a thorough review of the state’s statutes and regulatory authorities.
Maine’s OSW Research Array Timeline Must be Sufficient to Meaningfully Engage the Fishing Community
With regard to the research array, we are concerned with the extremely abbreviated timeline Maine has announced for preparation of its project application to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). A previous letter from the fishing community detailed the significant amount of time required to work collaboratively with fishermen on project design and data collection if impacts to Maine coastal communities and sustainable seafood production are to be effectively minimized. Your response stated that the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative “entails a thoughtful approach to development” that “emphasizes compatibility . . . to inform offshore wind siting considerations and to minimize any impact on Maine’s commercial fishing and maritime industries.” Simply put, the State’s announced goal of submitting a full project application in a few short months falls far short of affording the time necessary to meet this commitment.
This is especially true considering the ongoing emergency associated with COVID-19. Despite the assurance that your office will work with us to “ensure that we organize a stakeholder process that is mindful of immediate health and business impacts from COVID-19,” we have received no roadmap for how the State intends to develop partnerships with the industry that are cognizant of the significant current limitations on meetings, unusual time demands, and economic demands fishermen currently face as essential workers providing food to the nation.
It is unclear what benefit such a short timeline would provide, and no satisfactory answer was given during the webinars. While the BOEM review process takes time, and floating OSW technology is changing quickly and years away from being ready for rapid deployment at the scale envisioned by even this research project, it is imperative to make good decisions early in the project (siting and process) to lessen time and money wasted. This decision will have a significant and long-lasting impact on the fishing community as it commits the state to a specific site and 20-year operation of a commercial wind farm.
The Research Array Must be Part of a Larger Planning Effort
The state has characterized the proposed research array as a stand-alone project to inform future OSW development. As such, the state marginalizes the reality that other OSW developers may also submit successful commercial lease applications for this region in the near-term. Moving forward with an application for a research array in the absence of any fundamental planning work to determine how the GOM may be developed for OSW is short-sighted. This approach does not allow the fishing industry to understand how the research array might fit into a larger OSW development or how to minimize the cumulative impacts of multiple such developments. Moving the research array forward without the necessary context will lead to poor decisions on siting, cable sizing and placement, and is likely to increase the cumulative impacts on both the environment and fishing communities.
In addition, the fishing community has many questions about the costs and benefits of OSW in the GOM when compared to other renewable energy sources, the potential for new jobs created versus the loss of fishing jobs, the cost of power, and many more. In the absence of this information, it is very difficult to expect fishermen to work with the state on siting an array or provide comments.
The Proposed Research Array Must Include Robust Research Plan
The fishing community is dismayed at the characterization of the State’s OSW development as a research facility without any clear plans to fund or conduct research cooperatively with the fishing fleet. A full research proposal should be drafted collaboratively with fishing experts and made available to the public. This proposal must outline the data types and methods for collection, the analysis to be completed, full timeline, and the benefits to the people of Maine. It is unclear whether this basic information will be provided before a project application is submitted; if not, fishermen and the public cannot be expected to provide reasonable and informative comments.
Construction of a wind energy facility will result in direct spatial conflicts with fishing, which merits a full socio-economic analysis prior to project planning. A European Parliament report recently found “a clear gap of economic and socio-cultural impact assessments” on OSW’s impacts to fishing, so such analysis will require robust scientific expertise. The State should also be transparent about the location of the planned research proposal. Based on the information in the webinars, limited locations within the area of consideration are suitable for its placement. Additionally, site-specific research questions may also be investigated depending on the local characteristics of the research site.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests so we can preserve Maine’s commercial fisheries and ensure they remain an important part of Maine’s economy, culture and heritage in years to come.
Maine Lobstermen’s Association Patrice McCarron
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Ben Martens
Maine Lobster Dealers Association Annie Tselikis
Responsible Offshore Development Alliance
Maine Lobstermen’s Union Local 207 Rocky Alley
Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries Paul Anderson
Downeast Lobstermen’s Association Sheila Dassatt
and 300 individual fishermen and businesses