Senator David Woodsome, Chair
Representative Seth Berry, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology
My name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony. NRCM opposes this legislation because it would effectively ban an offshore wind test facility without a sound basis and ahead of environmental review, thus setting back Maine’s already slow progress toward appropriate offshore wind development. NRCM takes environmental siting considerations for wind power seriously, whether on land or offshore, and does not yet have a position on the specific test project itself. The project should be evaluated based on detailed environmental studies as part of a permitting process.
Offshore wind has the potential to produce significant clean energy, which is vitally important to achieving our climate and renewable energy goals—including those already in statute. Offshore wind is moving forward in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Maine’s deep waters mean innovative technology for floating turbines is necessary for progress closer to home. Deep water offshore wind offers the opportunity to tap the most powerful energy resources further from shore, while minimizing impacts on existing uses. Should Maine succeed in leading in this effort, there are potentially significant economic benefits for our state, including our existing marine industries like shipbuilding.
However that technology must be further developed, hence the need for demonstration projects such as the two-turbine Aqua Ventus project relevant to this bill.
While the need for new renewable energy—including wind—is clear in any honest assessment of carbon emissions, it is equally clear to NRCM that some sites are more appropriate for wind power development than other sites. Rigorous environmental review, as part of state and federal permitting, is very important to siting wind infrastructure. NRCM does not have a position on whether or not Aqua Ventus should be granted any environmental permits, because that process has not started and relies on detailed review of environmental studies by agencies and other stakeholders. NRCM’s approach to siting onshore wind has been to look at every project and weigh site-specific impacts against the broader benefits of the clean power it would produce. We know project developers have conducted some environmental analysis already, but we are not here to comment on the findings or adequacy of those studies.
A key problem with this bill is that it establishes a blanket prohibition without regard to environmental standards. The bill would prohibit wind development of any kind in, or anywhere near, the Monhegan Lobster Conservation Area (an area the size of Knox or Lincoln counties.) By law, the purpose of that area is to give island lobstermen an exclusive area, which may not be lobstered by mainland lobstermen. Establishment of the Monhegan Lobster Conservation Area was never intended for the purpose of prohibiting wind development, or any other type of development, and should not be used as the basis for such action.
If the bill were to pass, it would have a deleterious effect on offshore wind testing and development in Maine. It would likely jeopardize federal funding necessary for the project. In theory, it could force the project into other Maine waters, but there are no impact-free locations—or more likely into federal waters, where regulatory bureaucracy would likely doom a two-turbine demonstration project.
The bill would overturn a process started almost a decade ago to identify and establish suitable areas for offshore wind technology demonstration projects. That effort included a detailed and transparent site selection process, with multiple rounds of screening possible areas and extensive public input. The reason the Aqua Ventus project is proposed two miles off Monhegan is because state agencies ran a proactive process to find the sites most suitable, with fewest likely conflicts. Such processes are not perfect, but they provide a helpful way to incorporate public and expert input into siting and zoning. This type of proactive planning is often preferable to simply letting companies propose development wherever they find it convenient.
In selecting the sites, the Bureau of Conservation found that “nearly all areas of Maine’s waters are used for commercial fishing and other uses at various times throughout the year” and that “the outreach effort was also successful in involving local fisherman and others to help identify specific areas where potential impacts to commercial fishing and other uses can be minimized.” It also found that the test areas “have been located using the best available information to avoid or minimize potential interference to avian nesting, feeding, and migration routes and areas with identified concentrations of marine mammals.” Again, these findings do not constitute grounds to grant permits, they reflect an initial screening about the places least likely to be problematic for limited development.
Finally, on that point, our position is informed by the fact that this is a demonstration project consisting of two turbines. They will indeed be very large and visible, and have some level of impact. The demonstration sites, including the one off Monhegan, were not selected for commercial wind farms. Not only have project proponents committed to not pursue commercial projects within 10 miles of Monhegan, but the law for general permitting in these test areas clearly does not apply to any proposed commercial project.
In conclusion, we oppose a blanket restriction on offshore wind demonstration projects in a large area without sound basis. We believe the ban would probably end the project that has been sited in accordance with a public site selection process, which would be a major setback for offshore wind in Maine. Therefore, it is better to allow standing state and federal permitting processes to run their course and grant or deny permits based on careful environmental review.