Mar 25, 2010

No windfarms to be allowed in Maine state waters, state legislative committee decides

Augusta.  There will be no windfarms in Maine state waters, a state legislative committee has decided. By unanimous vote, the Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee sent a final version of LD 1810."An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor's Ocean Energy Task Force", to the full legislature, where passage is deemed likely.

Maine will be the first state in the Union to ban windmills from its coastal waters. Listen to the March 24th final Work session on the bill The decision to keep state waters free of windfarming came as a result of pressure by members of Maine's commercial fishing industry,including  lobstermen, groundfishermen, shrimpers and scallopers, who intensive ply their trade in every square mile of Maine's marine waters. See a petition about LD 1810 submitted by Bar Harbor fishermen

The 40 and 50 year windfarm leases that would have been offered  under the earlier form of LD 1810  would have, due to wind farm insurance policies, barred groundfishing and scalloping and other fishing. This would be "closing the commons" of Maine's Territorial Sea that the fishermen share with windjammers recreational fishers and other water users. The Committee also heard from the coastal resort industry, which similarly feared loss of business if windmills began flapping near the shore in Maine state waters

While the  radically altered bill bars windfarms from state waters, it promotes their development a minimum of ten miles from shore, including from the shore of any inhabited Maine island.  The bill no longer strips coastal towns of the power to regulate structures in municipal waters, and drops a proposal to bar the Maine Board of Environmental Protection from hearing appeals of windfarm permits. Instead,  the bill allows for prototype wave and tidal power generators in state waters, with test locations to be identified using a process similar to the one used to identify three test sites for prototype deepwater floating turbines.  The bureau of Parks and Lands, which will license wave or tidal projects in maine setate waters, will be required to notify commercial fishermen via the state's Marine Resources Advisory Council and the state's lobster zone councils.

But central to the bill is setting up a competitive solicitation process for building, transporting and operating a 25 megawatt deepwater floating wind system  that by 2015 would supply 87,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year  to Maine consumers, with hopes for greater expansion in decades to come.Under the bill, the state will "brand" power from its over-the-horizon wind generation as  "Ocean Wind Green Standard Offer"  Though power from the offshore wind facility will cost more than land-generated electricity, the state hopes consumers and industry will be attracted by the idea of purchasing "Ocean Wind Green" power, that does not interfere with fishermen or other already existing businesses and communities like land -based turbines, and does not degrade Maine's scenic assets.

Kudos to the Maine Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee for learning from the mistakes made several years ago when they legislated a fast track approach to wind farming in Maine's mountainous areas. In the case of the ocean, the committee put coastal Maine's existing ocean-dependent, scenery dependent economy first.

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