Offshore Wind Development in the Gulf of Maine Draws Closer

The next step in the long process of building offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine happened last week at the University of New Hampshire in Durham before an overflow crowd: the first meeting of the Gulf of Maine Task Force, convened by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). See https://www.boem.gov/Gulf-of-Maine. The Task Force was created by BOEM in response to Governor Sununu’s request for the formation of an intergovernmental task force on offshore wind renewable energy (see earlier blog post). It includes representatives from federal, state, and local governments in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine, who will coordinate with BOEM to facilitate offshore renewable energy development in the Gulf of Maine.

Governor Sununu began the meeting with an enthusiastic speech about the benefits of offshore wind development and highlighted the cooperation needed to advance the development process. After Governor Sununu spoke, BOEM’s Chief of the Office of Renewable Energy Programs, Jim Bennett, described the status of offshore wind development along the Atlantic coast.  Meredith Lilley, Project Coordinator at BOEM, gave an overview of the specific process BOEM would use to identify and lease areas within the Gulf of Maine for offshore wind resource development. She explained the necessary steps to winnow down the areas that would be available for lease, the respective roles of government and developers, and the anticipated time frame to build turbines. Additional speakers included representatives from each of the three states, federal agencies with jurisdictional authority over various aspects of offshore wind development and permitting, and other presenters extolling various resources that will be beneficial for planning and analysis during this process.

The Task Force meeting included opportunities for the public to comment on the leasing and offshore wind development process and the prospect of turbines in the Gulf. Commercial fishermen raised concerns that offshore wind development would impact the fishing industry within the Gulf of Maine. They specifically voiced concerns about the use of floating wind turbines which may require long anchor lines that would be more impactful on fishing areas than fixed turbines, such as those proposed in other offshore wind projects. A number of other commenters focused on the need to develop renewable energy alternatives to combat climate change.

Ultimately, the Task Force meeting was an important step forward; it jumpstarted the offshore wind development process and clearly identified many of the logistical challenges that must be addressed before BOEM holds a lease auction in the Gulf of Maine or developers can begin installing turbines.  These challenges include: What areas will be off-limits for wind development? How will the energy produced by the turbines be connected to the grid onshore? What will be the impact on fishermen, and how can that impact be minimized? Will the turbines affect coastal views?  All these questions—and more—will need to be answered before there’s any “steel in the water.” The next step in the process will be another Task Force meeting, which has not been scheduled yet.

About the Author: Nat Morse, Ph.D., J.D.

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