Mills Offshore Wind Roadmap Stirs Debate in Augusta

(Source: Offshore Wind Roadmap)

Proponents of offshore wind power generated off the coast of Maine are no longer just blowing cold air: they will soon be brokering leases for development, a report issued by the state last week highlighted.

Given the scale and scope of what’s in the State of Maine’s Offshore Wind Roadmap that Gov. Janet Mills’ administration unveiled on Thursday, it’s a little odd that the governor didn’t directly mention the ambitious project in her state of the budget speech two weeks ago. What she did tell us then was her new goal is to have 100 percent of energy in the state coming from renewable sources by 2040, and in this context the offshore wind scheme begins to make more sense.

Until you consider the intense opposition to installing 500-900 foot tall wind turbines throughout the offshore waters of Maine.

The “roadmap” envisions 2,100 installations. Fishermen have been vocal in their opposition, and a state law Mills signed in 2021 prohibits offshore wind development in state waters. But what does that really mean?

Earlier on the same day the governor delivered her annual speech, Republicans in the legislature announced they would be introducing legislation to assert state sovereignty on waters out to 12 miles offshore. According to House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), a lobsterman since childhood, that’s the way it had always been.

Lobstermen in Maine have been actively refuting the narrative that their fishery threatens the endangered Atlantic Right Whale, which the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had been claiming as its basis for tough new regulations on the industry. But there is a significant difference between the break-free rope lines lobstermen already have to use for their traps and the massive steel chains that will be required to station the offshore wind-turbines.

“There’s so many things going against you as a commercial fisherman in the United States,” David Aripotch, a small-scale commercial fisherman in Long Island Sound, told WBUR in 2021. “And now these wind farms, it’s almost like that’s the final nail in the coffin.”

While there is no record of right whales having been killed by Maine lobstermen, other types of whales, including the humpback, have been washing up along East Coast beaches over the past six months. Tucker Carlson, for instance, is convinced federal government-boosted offshore wind projects are to blame.

Emails obtained by Bloomberg News have shown that, privately, NOAA scientists are also concerned that offshore wind development is threatening the endangered mammals.

Even though allies of the wind-power industry led a concerted effort to “debunk” suspicions that these whales had collided with offshore wind farms along the New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island coasts, questions persist. Green Oceans, a Tiverton, Rhode Island-based group, has spoken out about what it calls the damage being done off the Ocean State by massive wind projects.

Conservation groups elsewhere on the Eastern seaboard have expressed misgivings about large-scale, offshore wind complexes. Studies on the environmental impacts – especially to oceanic life – agree on one point: it is too early to say how harmful they might be. In addition to disruptions of the ocean floor, marine mammals in particular are very sensitive to hearing, which noise levels from the turbines could negatively impact.

But the Biden administration is bullish on wind-power, and has announced its plan for the industry to produce 15GW of power by 2035. Maine’s “roadmap” envisions tapping into the billions of dollars the Federal government is proposing together with other sources of investment. The U.S. registered subsidiary of a Danish firm operates the wind-farms off Rhode Island.

Now the timeline for developing Maine’s offshore wind complex is no longer just conceptual. The state’s “roadmap” envisions the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to enter into the first leases with investors by next year.

Faulkingham and the four Republican members of the legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee issued a statement on Friday blasting the “roadmap:”

“The ‘Offshore Wind Roadmap’ announced by the Governor is really a blueprint for destroying Maine’s way of life by polluting the marine environment, endangering whales, harming the fishing industry, and increasing our electric bills. Proponents of this costly boondoggle know that runaway electric bills are making people increasingly aware of the faulty logic behind projects of this type that rely on oil and gas,” the Republican legislators declared, and added a swipe at the double-standard between scrutiny on the lobster fishery and on the climate-friendly wind industry:

“Despite ZERO right whale deaths, global elites are trying to put Maine lobster fishing families out of business to save whales, so that they can install offshore winds turbines that harm whales and other marine life. Ultimately these ‘green’ projects will still rely on oil and gas. The only difference is that regular people will pay even higher electric bills, and more of their money will flow into the pockets of the few that are pushing this.”   

In the very process-focused “road-map” document there is a strategic objective number three, which is to “avoid conflict and minimize it when it occurs.” On that score alone, it is being met with a bumpy reception so far. While it is not yet as wild as the seas can get offshore, it is a bellwether. The Maine Wire will continue to cover this story.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here