Gov. Janet Mills has signed into law a bill prohibiting offshore wind farms in state waters, in a compromise aimed at siting such projects farther from Maine’s heavily used inshore waters.

Mills is a vocal supporter of wind energy who has made addressing climate change a top priority of her administration. But segments of Maine’s fishing industry – particularly lobstermen – have been battling to ban any wind development off the coast of Maine over concerns about potential loss of access to valuable fishing grounds and other conflicts.

The bill proposed by Mills and signed into law this week would prohibit state and local governments from licensing or permitting the siting, construction or operation of wind turbines in the state territorial waters that extend three miles from shore. A demonstration project under development off Monhegan Island and future “pilot-scale, limited duration” research projects would be exempt from the prohibition.

The bill, L.D. 1619, also would create an Offshore Wind Research Consortium with an advisory board that includes representatives of the lobster industry, other commercial fishermen and the recreational charter fishing industry as well as energy experts. The board will advise the state on local and regional impacts from offshore wind power projects as gleaned from a state-backed “research array” of up to 12 turbines to be located in federal waters.

“Maine is uniquely prepared to grow a strong offshore wind industry, create good-paying trades and technology jobs around the state, and reduce our crippling dependence on harmful fossil fuels,” Mills said in a statement. “This legislation cements in law our belief that these efforts should occur in federal waters farther off our coast through a research array that can help us establish the best way for Maine to embrace the vast economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind.”

Offshore wind is widely regarded as a major untapped source of renewable energy in the United States, and the Gulf of Maine has among the best wind resources in the nation. One recent study cited by the Mills administration predicts the industry could be valued at $70 billion by 2030, helped along by the Biden administration’s ambitious goal of generating 30 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind by that date.

Commercial fishermen, however, have consistently opposed such wind farms, and segments of Maine’s lobster industry have been waging a political campaign against what they refer to as “offshore power plants.”

Mills proposed her moratorium in January as a way to address concerns raised by fishermen. But it was obvious during a May public hearing on a bill seeking a total ban on offshore wind that many in the industry felt Mills’ proposal did not go far enough. And in March, more than 80 lobster boats disrupted underwater surveys for a cable connecting the Monhegan demonstration project to the mainland.

The Mills administration has proposed the “research array” as a way to inform future offshore wind development. The turbines are being developed by the University of Maine and a public-private partnership known as New England Aqua Ventus.

The administration is expected to announce a proposed site for the research array in the coming days. The site is expected to be 20 to 40 miles from Maine’s coastline and in a location that will allow connection to the electric grid at either Wyman Station in Yarmouth or Maine Yankee in Wiscasset.

A virtual public meeting will be held on July 13 to solicit public feedback on the proposed site before the Governor’s Energy Office submits a formal application to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees leases for energy projects in federal waters. A day later, the Governor’s Energy Office will hold a virtual meeting to begin developing a strategic plan for offshore wind development in Maine.

Last week, after the Legislature approved L.D. 1619, Patrice McCarron with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association told The Associated Press that members were “encouraged that the Legislature was willing to listen to our concerns and build in some safeguards and accountability by banning offshore wind in state waters and requiring the offshore wind strategic plan to be completed before the state can permit offshore wind cables into Maine.”

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