Commentary

Mills signs offshore wind ban amid lingering skepticism from fishermen

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After pressure from Maine lobstermen, Gov. Janet Mills has signed a law that permanently bans the development of offshore wind energy projects in Maine state waters, but it did not come without give-and-take.

Under the law, new wind projects are now confined to federal waters. 

LD 1619, sponsored by Sen. Mark Lawrence (D-Eliot), stipulates new offshore wind developments are permanently prohibited in state waters, but will be permitted in federal waters if, by March 2023, the Governor’s Energy Office develops and proposes a planned research strategy to guide the development of such projects.

The law establishes the Offshore Wind Research Consortium (OWRO), a subdivision of the Governor’s Energy Office, to organize such necessary research projects on the effects of new wind energy developments in the Gulf of Maine.

Mills’ bill originally proposed a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind projects. But through legislative compromises and amendments, the ban was, with a few exceptions, extended permanently. Those exceptions included limited-duration research and development projects, and other, smaller, demonstration-based projects.

Her original plans were met with protest from hundreds of Maine lobstermen who warned of the potentially disastrous impacts new, non-researched wind power developments would have on Maine’s fishing industry. Even now, the law has been met with some criticism.

Though the moratorium in state waters, where up to 75% of Maine’s commercial lobster harvesting occurs, is a win for Maine’s lobstermen, those in the industry are still concerned as to how wind projects in federal waters could make it harder to harvest lobster.

Though the compromise did add two representatives from the lobster industry to the ORWO, Mills has retained her plan for an experimental 16-square-mile wind farm in federal waters off the coast of Maine, made possible through last month’s passage of LD 336, also sponsored by Lawrence. State waters only extend three miles off the coast, and this new farm would be somewhere between 20 to 40 miles from Maine’s shores, in the Gulf of Maine.

In January, a collection of fishing groups released a statement saying they “understand and support the need to develop clean renewable energy sources, but do not share the governor’s vision to achieve this through rushed offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine.”

Wasting no time to get the hurried project going, Dan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said they will announce the administration’s preferred location for the new farm within the next week.

More research should be conducted on the effects of such a farm on the lobster in the area before the state hastily puts down an entire array, potentially disrupting ecosystems of one of Maine’s biggest economic drivers.

As shown in the above graph from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine’s lobster industry is a key economic actor. In 2020 alone, Maine lobstermen raked in over 96.5 million pounds of fresh catch. That’s over $400 million in revenue last year, despite the challenges posed by the worldwide pandemic.

Notably, the next gubernatorial election in Maine will occur in November of 2022. Mills is likely feeling the heat of a potential challenger, as was made evident through a few of her recent vetoes.

As outlined in her press release, Mills signed the measure into law with the support of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, environmental and labor groups, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

The measure is an emergency bill, though, and required the concurrence of two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature to pass it.

Though the ban is a win for now, Mills’ next moves towards offshore wind must be vigilantly watched as future development plans take form just off of Maine’s shores.

About Nick Linder

Nicholas Linder, of Cincinnati, is a communications Intern for Maine Policy Institute. He is going into his second year of studying finance and public policy analysis at The Ohio State University. On campus, he is involved with Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations and Business for Good.

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