In late August, a 40-member coalition called New England for Offshore Wind launched an advocacy campaign aimed at convincing governors and legislatures to “make commitments by 2022 to power one-third of our region by offshore wind,” at some unspecified date in the future.

During the Zoom news conference, Habib Dagher, founding director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, outlined how Maine has been working to develop floating offshore wind for 12 years. The latest goal is to have a single prototype, a commercial-scale floating platform and turbine, anchored in Maine’s deep water in 2023.

Meanwhile, construction of the nation’s first large-scale conventional wind farm, a $2.8 billion venture off Massachusetts called Vineyard Wind, has been pushed back at least a year. It’s waiting while the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conducts a study of the cumulative impacts of offshore wind, from North Carolina to New England.

This is what passes for bold action today to confront the mounting crisis of climate change. Stakeholder advocacy. Years and years of delay. Analysis paralysis.

The region’s slow-motion response made me think back to another crisis and another major energy project, this one built across western Maine roughly 80 years ago.

World War II was an immediate crisis. German Navy ships were disrupting crucial oil tanker deliveries to Canadian refineries in Montreal. The answer was to build an underground pipeline from the secure harbor in Portland to Montreal, 236 miles away. And do it on an emergency schedule, in record time.


The Portland Montreal Pipe Line project began in early 1941. The first tanker docked at the terminal in South Portland on Nov. 4, less than a year later.

It’s hard to imagine such a response today. More than 35,000 tons of stainless steel pipe were laid across the White Mountains and under the Richelieu and St. Lawrence rivers in a matter of months. The project was documented in a wartime film, which is  available online. Against a soundtrack of stirring, patriotic music, black-and-white footage shows bulldozers ripping a 35-foot wide right of way through a mile of forest a day, “a challenge to Hitler’s Panzer Division of destruction,” the narrator says.

Try to picture a video being produced today about New England’s battle with climate change and its urgent push for offshore wind.

“From the Green Mountains to the chilly Atlantic, leaders met today on a Zoom call,” the narrator might intone. “Here, finally, was a broad coalition of impassioned stakeholders, marshaling their forces to advocate for offshore energy.”

OK. That’s not entirely fair.

Most people today support reasonable environmental reviews and public input before bulldozers clear a swath. But defining “reasonable” is tough.  Case in point: New England Clean Energy Connect’s controversial hydroelectric line, a modern Canada-Maine energy corridor. For opponents, the only review that’s reasonable would be one that kills the project.


Today’s environmental sensitivities also have the current owners of the Portland Montreal Pipe Line in court, fighting a South Portland ordinance that would prevent them from some day reversing the flow of the now little-used pipeline corridor, to ship Canadian oil overseas. No one would could have envisioned that in 1941.

And to its credit, New England is home to the nation’s first commercial scale wind farm, installed in 2018. But the output from the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm is a drop in the ocean. And it’s owned now by a Danish company that has been building similar offshore wind farms in Europe since 1991, so this isn’t a technological breakthrough.

But floating wind, where turbine platforms are anchored far offshore to capture better breezes and stay out of sight, that’s a different story. This is cutting-edge and UMaine has been on the forefront of developing a proprietary platform.

As many people recall with regret, the Norwegian energy company previously named Statoil had plans to build a $120 million pilot floating wind farm in Maine. But the company gave up in 2013 after facing opposition from former Gov. Paul LePage. It went to Scotland instead, and built the world’s first floating commercial wind farm in 2017.

For better or worse, Maine has hitched its floating offshore wind star to UMaine’s New England Aqua Ventus venture, which finally received substantial private investment last month for its long-awaited test turbine off Monhegan. Mark your calendar for 2023.

It’s also unfair to blame Aqua Ventus for the delays. The project has been a victim of shifting politics and regulatory uncertainty, set against a protracted stakeholder process.


Some stakeholders weighed in on the offshore wind Zoom call. A representative from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, an advocacy group working on sustainable fisheries and other issues, said his industry knows offshore wind is coming to the region. It just wants better communications and ways to mitigate the impact.

Climate change is complicated for the region’s fishing industry. Warming water is changing what lives in the Gulf of Maine, but maybe that’s a more-esoteric threat than turbines. So even though there already are more than 100 ocean wind farms in Europe and thousands of turbine towers, look for years of debate in New England over how to navigate around our wind turbines and undersea cables.

Maine farmers probably weren’t happy to have a big trench dug across their fields in 1941, in the midst of planting season. They just didn’t know to form a stakeholder group.

The upcoming federal environmental impact statement on the cumulative effects of wind along the Atlantic Seaboard will seek to balance fisheries concerns. Coincidence or not, it’s scheduled to be released a week before Christmas, and well after the November presidential elections.

Someone on the Zoom call asked whether the upcoming presidential election will “tip the fate” of offshore wind. The moderator acknowledged that stronger federal policy would be helpful, but no, the election won’t determine the industry’s future. Offshore wind is such a win-win for the economy and environment, she said, that the federal ocean energy bureau is expected to issue a decision that allows projects to move forward.

Very diplomatic. Everyone knows renewable energy development would fare much better under a Biden administration. They also know Donald Trump is vindictive and thin-skinned. They’re afraid to poke the bear, so it’s safer to publicly downplay the impact of additional delay on a multi-billion dollar industry and hope for the best.


Ultimately, the biggest contrast between World War II and climate change is consensus, or lack of it.

It’s true that the United States was reluctant to officially enter the war, even after a Nazi U-boat sunk an American escort warship in the North Atlantic in October 1941. That ambivalence changed two months later, with the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. After that, the threat was immediate and obvious. And we were all in.

But the threats associated with climate change seem less immediate to many people. It’s like the frog-on-the-stove analogy. The frog gets accustomed to the burner being turned up slowly, until the temperature finally reaches a boil. In our society, the planet’s warming, but just hasn’t reached a boil yet.

More confounding, an occult hand keeps fiddling with the burner.  On the Zoom call, UMaine’s Dagher noted that the initial momentum to pursue floating offshore wind came at a time when heating oil and gasoline prices had hit $4 a gallon. This was a crisis for many Mainers and a call to action.

But petroleum prices have moderated since then, and they collapsed with the global pandemic. Gasoline prices this Labor Day will be the lowest since 2004, according to GasBuddy. Heating oil this winter should remain a bargain.

With cheap energy and no consensus, advocating for a rapid rollout of offshore wind in New England is good spin. But maybe it’s just a pipe dream.

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