Floating offshore wind continues to divide state lawmakers struggling to figure out if the burgeoning industry holds the answer to Maine’s climate and economic goals or if it poses an existential threat to the state’s $1.4 billion lobster industry.

Lawmakers heard impassioned testimony Thursday on two wind power bills that envision very different futures for Maine: one directs the state to use its power to shape projects that federal regulators can permit in offshore waters, and the other directs the state to try to derail the projects.

A lobster boat passes the country’s first floating wind turbine, an experimental, small-scale version off the coast of Castine, in September 2013. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

The pro-wind bill, L.D. 1895, directs the Maine Public Utilities Commission to conduct a competitive bidding process to procure 1,000 megawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 2,800 megawatts by 2035, enough to generate more than half of Maine’s electricity demand.

“This essentially starts the process,” Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-Eliot, the chairman of the energy committee and the bill’s sponsor, said of the procurement requirement. “It sends a strong signal to developers that Maine is serious about buying floating offshore wind.”

A procurement requirement, which offers the industry more investment certainty, would put Maine in a better position to compete with other states courting offshore wind, Lawrence said. Industry advocates said about 51,000 megawatts of offshore wind power is in development.

At least 10 other states have adopted offshore wind targets, including six in New England, ranging from 1,400 megawatts in Rhode Island to 25,000 megawatts in California, said Steve Clemmer, the director of energy research with the Union of Concerned Scientists, of Prospect Harbor.


Fellow members of Lawrence’s energy committee such as Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter, questioned why Maine should advance offshore wind projects whose potentially high costs would be borne by ratepayers before it can assess the performance of a test site off Monhegan and a research array off Portland.

“Why this now, when we don’t actually have hard information from all of that to lean on?” Foster asked.

The Biden administration wants to deploy 15 gigawatts of floating wind turbines in U.S. waters by 2035, enough to power 5 million homes. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is eyeing about 9.7 million acres in the Gulf of Maine for potential offshore wind development.

The bureau will likely whittle the area down later this year and could begin issuing leases to anyone it wants. Maine must act now if it wants to shape which bidders might win those federal leases, influence community benefit agreements and keep wind farms away from fertile fishing grounds, Lawrence said.

“If we were to wait, we would miss the window of opportunity,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s bill directs the PUC to build the transmission infrastructure needed to “expeditiously” make use of offshore wind; set local hiring, workforce development and safety standards; promote diversity, equity and inclusion; and monitor the impacts on the marine environment.


These protective clauses drew the support of environmental groups, who say the bill would help reduce Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions without harming wildlife, and labor unions who said they guarantee the offshore wind jobs that would be created would employ Mainers safely and compensate them fairly.


Dudley Greeley of Cumberland taught sustainable business classes at the University of Southern Maine for nearly a decade. Over the years, he said it became clear that he had to focus his class content on the benefits of powering society with sustainably-produced energy.

“Good atmospheres are hard to find,” Greeley testified. “The need to stop treating our atmosphere as a gaseous sewer is urgent. … Maine lost significant opportunities to become an early leader in offshore wind technology. Let’s not hesitate now to adopt this sensible approach.”

Leo Hilton is an electrical apprentice from Portland who returned to his hometown three years ago with plans to build a new life here. He discovered thriving arts, culture and food industries, but then learned the workers who make these industries possible were unable to afford to live there anymore.

“We have a chance through this bill to make sure that when the offshore wind boom comes to Maine, that working Mainers get to benefit, not just the owners of the companies,” he said. “We can empower workers and their communities through good, safe jobs with family-sustaining wages.”


But the projected labor agreements that thrilled many union workers who support the bill upset one non-union shop, Reed & Reed of Woolwich, at the forefront of Maine’s existing wind turbine industry. They have built more than 400 of Maine’s 450 existing turbines, according to chairman Jackson Parker.

“In a world where ratepayer costs matter, (this bill) would raise electricity costs because its union-only labor requirements exclude 90 percent of Maine construction workers,” he said. “Higher construction costs equal higher electricity costs.”

Under terms of the bill, prices for procuring this wind power will only assure a 60% allocation of benefits to ratepayers, which is something that drew criticism from several groups, including AARP Maine and Bill Harwood, who advocates on behalf of ratepayers as the Maine Public Advocate.

“Benefits that cannot be reflected in the rates for essential distribution services should be funded by taxpayers, not ratepayers,” said AARP’s Alf Anderson. “This bill will make the current regressive nature of electricity rates and prices even more harmful to lower-income and elderly customers.”

An amended version of the bill would give a developer a tax credit if they site the project outside of a high-value federal lobster fishery where many of Maine’s high-line fishermen in bigger boats set their traps at the time of the year when lobster prices are usually highest.

The tax incentive to protect Maine lobster fishermen was enough to convince the Maine Lobstering Union, which testified in favor of the bill, but not enough for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association or House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, a lobsterman.



“It’s not good enough to simply state that we need to address global climate change and ignore all the possible negative environmental impacts,” Faulkingham told lawmakers. “This bill would devastate Maine’s fishing industry and would fill the night horizon with blinking red lights.”

Faulkingham’s comments echoed those by Rep. Aaron Dana, a Passamaquoddy tribal representative, who said Lawrence’s bill would impose on the tribe’s saltwater fishing rights, and that traffic back and forth through Eastport would endanger tribal members and cultural sites.

He said the Passamaquoddy were not consulted about this bill until just days ago even though members of the working group that developed the state’s road map to offshore wind and this bill had been “plotting” to use tribal lands and resources to accomplish their goal.

A representative from Gov. Janet Mills’ Energy Office – who expressed reservations about other parts of the bill, including some of the prescriptive language intended to protect certain interest groups – said the tribes had been invited to attend in any capacity they wanted from the beginning.

The wind prohibition bill, L.D. 1884, was presented by first-term Rep. Tiffany Strout, R-Harrington. It prohibits towns and state agencies from authorizing the construction of offshore wind or issuing a lease or granting an easement that would benefit any offshore wind power project.

“When we talk about helping to slow the global warming process we need to think about all alternatives, not just the agenda of the day,” Strout said. “There are much better ways to proceed with the production of energy and cutting down on the use of fossil fuels besides completely destroying the Gulf of Maine.”

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