First published in Landings, November 2022
On August 19, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) published two notices in the Federal Register to solicit public comment to move forward on offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. The initiative is part of the Biden administration’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030.
BOEM published a Request for Interest (RFI) which “is the first step in BOEM’s commercial planning and leasing process to identify the offshore locations that appear most suitable for development, taking into consideration potential impacts to other resources and ocean users. The purpose of the RFI is to gauge interest in the development of commercial wind energy leases within the RFI Area, which consists of about 13,713,800 acres in the Gulf of Maine,” BOEM said in a press release.
BOEM also published a Request for Competitive Interest (RFCI) which is the agency’s next step in evaluating Maine’s application for a research lease In the Gulf of Maine. The state’s application requested a lease of 8,700 acres 20 nautical miles from the coast for construction and operation of a floating offshore wind turbine array to conduct research. The research array would comprise up to 12 floating offshore wind turbines capable of generating up to 144 megawatts of renewable energy.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), in its comments, pointed out the jeopardy rapid development of the Gulf of Maine would put lobstermen due to the harm such development could have on endangered North Atlantic right whales. “[The] MLA is particularly concerned with the impact of offshore wind on endangered North Atlantic right whales since any negative impacts on this species have direct regulatory impacts on Maine’s lobster fishery. Given the significant deficiencies in our understanding of the environmental impacts of offshore wind development and potential for irreparable harm to Maine’s fishing industry and coastal communities, the MLA strongly urges BOEM not to move forward with commercial leases in the Gulf of Maine.”
The MLA further cautioned BOEM on the rapid speed with which it was encouraging offshore wind energy projects in New England waters. “The MLA remains very concerned that BOEM is moving forward offshore wind development projects in areas of critical importance to North Atlantic right whales, both off of Massachusetts and in New York Bight, and now possibly the Gulf of Maine. It is unconscionable that as National Marine Fisheries Service is moving full steam ahead towards eliminating fixed gear fisheries to save right whales, BOEM is permitting the development of industrial wind farms in the habitats most critical to supporting these whales.”
The members of the Governor’s Offshore Wind Road Map Fisheries Working Group, organized by the Office of Energy, also wrote in opposition to BOEM’s haste in moving forward with leasing.
“Considering the importance of the Gulf of Maine as an ecosystem and economic driver within the blue economy, the speed at which the BOEM process is moving forward is disturbing and unnecessary. Good process leads to better results, and the establishment of a comment period before the Road Map from Maine is even completed does a disservice to the time and commitment that Maine’s diverse communities have contributed to this process,” the members wrote. “
Members of the Fisheries Working Group (FWG) are concerned that by having a comment period that does not take the findings of the Road Map into consideration that important work and suggestions will be lost to BOEM.” The letter included the extensive list of recommendations developed by the FWG on avoiding important commercial fishing grounds, highest use and highest value fishing areas, sensitive habitats and protected areas, as well as safety, navigation, research priorities, among others. Signatories to the comments were Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, MLA, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Lobstermen’s Union, and fishermen Terry Alexander, Dustin Delano, Bob Humphrey, Chris Weiner, and Eben Wilson.
A coalition of environmental organizations also urged BOEM to slow down in their comments. In May, the Conservation Law Foundation, 350 New Hampshire, Acadia Center, Blue Ocean Society, Friends of Casco Bay, Island Institute, League of Conservation Voters, Maine Conservation Voters, Maine Audubon, Massachusetts Audubon, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, National Resource Defense Council, New England Aquarium, New Hampshire Audubon, Oceana, and Surfrider Foundation had asked BOEM to do “a comprehensive environmental review” before proceeding with identifying potential areas in the Gulf of Maine for wind projects.
After the RFI and RFCI were released without any provision for such a review, the group wrote to BOEM, “This decision epitomizes short-term thinking that will only cause problems in the long run. It’s simply backwards to choose areas for offshore wind development before doing a full environmental analysis, which would ultimately save time and money if done now. It is critical to advance offshore wind to respond to the climate crisis and clean up our electric grid, but it must be done in a science-based, inclusive and transparent way.”
The 25 Fisheries Working Group recommendations are available online at https://www.maineoffshorewind.org/working-group-recommendations.