Maine plans floating offshore wind farm

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Maine leaders plan to raise the first floating, offshore wind farm in the U.S. to study the industry’s impacts on the marine environment, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced Friday.

As proposed, the research and development wind farm would include a dozen floating turbines and be positioned between 20 and 40 miles from shore, connecting the floating farm to the power grid in the southern half of Maine.

“I believe Maine can lead the country in floating offshore wind technology,” Mills said in a statement. “But it must be done in partnership with Maine’s fishermen, to form a science-based mutual understanding of how best to design and operate floating wind turbines in the precious Gulf of Maine.”

Offshore wind sits at a fulcrum of Maine interests.

The state’s coastal economy is dependent on seafood harvested from the Gulf of Maine, a body of water warming about three times the global average for oceans, according to NOAA. The warming waters threaten Maine’s lobster industry, the most valuable in the country. Shrimp have also been affected, with fishing for the crustacean barred since 2014.

“Maine is seeing the impact of climate change directly on our weather and our waters, and we should grasp the opportunity to help lead the national and global response to this existential threat,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) in a statement.

Maine has established targets for decarbonizing its power grid, including a commitment to hit 80% renewable power by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

King said the collaborative efforts in Maine to raise a floating wind farm “create a united front against one of the defining challenges of our time.”

More than a dozen offshore wind farms have been proposed off the Northeast coast in the U.S., driven largely by state commitments to buy offshore wind power as part of initiatives to accelerate a transition to cleaner power sources. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates 2,000 turbines could be raised within 10 years.

One of the industry’s greatest challenges, however, has been appeasing interests of longtime fishermen concerned that offshore wind will disrupt fishing grounds

The Gulf of Maine is a high resource area for wind energy, but its depths would require maturation of floating technology, a challenge shared by offshore wind interests on the West Coast.

The University of Maine successfully tested a small pilot floating turbine in 2013. And the school has a single-turbine floating pilot project, New England Aqua Ventus, scheduled to go up in 2023. That $100 million project is in partnership with Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp., and RWE Renewables, a subsidiary of a large German electric utility.

While the U.S. offshore wind sector is poised to grow expansively, only a two-turbine pilot project in Virginia has cleared the federal permitting process thus far. Vineyard Wind is the closest full-scale proposal to reach that milestone but has faced several delays by the Trump administration (Climatewire, Nov. 13).

President-elect Joe Biden (D) is expected to have a more supportive stance on the industry and potentially boost permitting resources at the Interior Department for the first fleet of projects.

Both the House and Senate budget proposals for fiscal 2021 include increased funding for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s offshore wind permitting shop.