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January 25, 2021

Mills wants to freeze near-shore wind development in response to fishing concerns

File Image A rendering of a proposed turbine for the New England Aqua Ventus wind farm, which would be sited 20 to 40 miles off the Maine shoreline.

As commercial fishermen express concern about the impact of proposed offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine, Gov. Janet Mills on Friday tried to calm the waters.

Mills said in a letter to fishermen she will ask the Legislature to create a 10-year moratorium on new wind projects within 3 miles of shoreline, a state-managed band of ocean that supports most of Maine’s lobster fishing as well as much coastal tourism.

But she promised little to allay fears about how a planned array of floating wind turbines might affect fishing and the marine environment farther offshore.  

The Governor’s Energy Office is leading the development of up to 12 turbines that would float 20 to 40 miles off Maine’s southern coast and be used for research. In partnership with the University of Maine and two renewable energy companies, the New England Aqua Ventus array would cover up to 16 square miles of ocean grounds leased from the federal government.

While a specific site hasn’t been chosen, the array would likely connect to the state’s power grid at either the Wyman Station generating plant in Yarmouth or the former Maine Yankee plant in Wiscasset, according to a news release Monday.

Meanwhile, a coalition of fishermen recently urged the governor to make “an inclusive planning process” a priority in any offshore wind development. The Maine Lobstermen's Association, Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, and a number of Maine-based fishermen are members of the members of the coalition, dubbed Responsible Offshore Development Alliance and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Fishermen also spoke out in opposition to the plan during a series of December webinars hosted by the Governor’s Energy Office and the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The sessions were designed to gather input from the fishing community about siting and the array’s potential impact on the industry. 

“I cannot push the timeline [for the plan’s submission to the federal government] off as far as some would like,” Mills wrote in her letter. “Development will not be halted completely because of COVID-19, nor should we delay action indefinitely.”

She has already extended the input-gathering phase of the project by several months, and the state will form a working group of fishing industry members to further inform the siting process, Mills noted.

“I ask that you remain at the table for what I know are hard conversations,” she wrote to the fishermen.

In the news release, Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher praised the 10-year freeze on near-shore wind. “This moratorium is an important step that will allow us to continue to alleviate concerns expressed by fishermen and will give us an opportunity to have a more focused conversation around the proposed research array.

“We will continue to work to see that all stakeholders are afforded the opportunity to have a voice in the decision-making process. Maine fishermen are vital to our state’s economy and heritage and I applaud Governor Mills’ decision to support their opportunity for input into the shared use of our state’s valuable marine resources.”

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