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

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden has introduced a bill that would bar commercial offshore wind energy development in a key fishing area along the coast of Maine.

The bill would prevent the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from potentially hurting the fishing and lobstering industries in Maine, said Golden, D-2nd District. The legislation would ban wind energy development in Lobster Management Area 1, which is the zone closest to shore and stretches along the entire coast of Maine. The bill also would launch an assessment of how federal agencies like the BOEM and the National Marine Fisheries Service study the effects of offshore wind development and engage with industry groups.

Maine has a long, complex relationship with such attempts to harness the power of strong, ocean-borne breezes to generate electricity.

There are currently a variety of plans underway. The Governor’s Energy Office wants to lease a site 45 miles from Portland in the Gulf of Maine to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind research site.

A developer also is working with University of Maine researchers to build a commercial-size floating wind turbine off the coast of Maine. And the state is thinking about turning a portion of Sears Island, off Searsport, into a center for assembling and servicing wind turbines.

However, the attempts all require a massive build-out of the state’s infrastructure. Wind turbines would have to float in the Gulf of Maine because the waters are too deep to allow the structures to be anchored to the seabed. And an attempt to build a commercial-size floating wind turbine project might be scrapped because it’s too large, complicated and expensive.


Meanwhile, commercial-scale ocean wind development is picking up in shallower waters off Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California.

Local supporters and opponents have stark differences of opinion. Researchers believe Maine can be a testing ground to develop ideas on mass-producing floating wind-turbine platforms on the East Coast. Fishermen and lobstermen are concerned about how planting wind turbines amid prime waters will affect the state’s catch. While Searsport Town Manager James Gillway has said the proposed Sears Island project stands to economically benefit the town, the island’s conservation group and other environmental groups worry about protecting the island.

And Gov. Janet Mills, historically a vocal supporter of wind energy, is simultaneously supporting and pushing back on a variety of wind-port endeavors. Mills is currently charting a “roadmap” for Maine’s offshore wind power development, which among other goals would help meet the state’s climate objective: 100% renewably produced energy by 2040. She’s behind the proposed projects from the Governor’s Energy Office.

All the while, Mills has promised to veto a bill she previously endorsed. It would review the potential visual impacts of wind ports, and, in turn, advance the process of wind-farm development. But Mills has changed course because of a recent amendment to add a requirement for project labor agreements in wind port construction.

Mills also joined Golden and the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation – Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent – in signing a June 12 letter urging the Bureau of Ocean Management to exclude federally defined lobstering waters from offshore wind development plans.



Virginia Olsen, a commercial lobsterman, and director of the Maine Lobstering Union, says a majority of Maine fishing and lobstering is concentrated in Lobster Management Area 1.

“I think this is the exclusion zone that the Maine Lobster Union and the area that the (Maine Lobstermen’s Association) would agree is most important economically to the fishery,” Golden said.

The BOEM has been drawing up and reviewing plans for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine since last August, following a decade of scientific and commercial interest. The current plan stands to lease 9.9 million acres for commercial wind-power production and allow turbines to take root in a handful of regions, including LMA 1.

But the congressional delegation and members of Maine’s fishing industry are concerned that the bureau hasn’t taken the time to fully understand what effects nearby offshore wind development could have on Maine’s fisheries.

“If those (windmills) are in the middle of our fishing grounds, we won’t have much of a fishery left,” Olsen said. “We don’t really know the adverse effects to scallops, to lobster, to migratory fish. And until we know some of those things, setting them in the middle of our fishing grounds just isn’t something that we think is a priority for Maine.”

The group also believes the agency has moved too quickly and inadequately listened to the opinions, experiences and concerns of Maine fishermen and lobstermen.


Even so, Olsen is hopeful that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has changed its tune in the last few weeks. She hopes that when its public outreach process is complete, LMA 1 could be eliminated from the plans.

“My hope is that they’re just taking their time writing that letter, make sure they are dotting all the i’s, crossing the t’s and they’re going to release LMA 1 from their call area,” she said.


The Maine Lobstering Union hopes the agency will be able to present adequate research that suggests these windmills won’t hurt the work of fisheries.

“So many of us have come to the table and said, ‘OK, we don’t know (the impacts). We are supportive of the research array to find out what those impacts will be to the fishery,’ ” she said.

But Golden still has his doubts.


“I think everyone is concerned about whether or not BOEM really listens, or (if) the federal government will comply with the wishes of the state in federal waters,” Golden said.

“If you take time to meet with industry broadly and with fishermen … there’s a lot of concerns that BOEM is not always taking into account the feedback that they’re receiving through public engagement. And I think BOEM can do a better job.”

That’s why just nine days after Maine’s congressional delegation sent its letter, Golden has introduced his bill, the “Northeast Fisheries Heritage Protection Act,” and hopes it will get support from the rest of the delegation.

While Mills is back and forth on what she is backing, Golden is hesitant to throw his full support behind offshore wind energy development.

“This is not an endorsement of offshore wind by any means,” he said. “My understanding is this is the direction that the Maine State Legislature is moving. We hope to see that if they move forward with an approved bill for offshore wind, it’s going to include this exclusion zone.”

Even if the BOEM strikes the lobstering area from the list, Golden believes that the bill can have rippling effects and lead to more legislation protecting Maine’s fisheries.


“Our biggest concern is if the state moves forward with an agreement to leave LMA 1 out, we want to make sure that the federal government also follows suit and complies with that,” Golden said.

The agency’s call for public input ended on June 12. It’s unclear when the BOEM is expected to announce any decisions. The agency declined to comment on the bill.

In the meantime, Golden is working to build a congressional coalition for the bill.

“It’s just talking to your colleagues and helping them understand that, finding this balance and being opposed to driving forward on projects without really seeking local input and making sure that federal policies take into account and respect the local industry and local sensitivities,” he said.

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