BY TUX TURKEL PRESS HERALD
New legislation would require the Public Utilities Commission to procure enough electricity from offshore wind farms to power 980,000 homes.
Proposed legislation unveiled Tuesday would call for the purchase of offshore wind-generated electricity in amounts that could supply every home in the state, and then some.
Wind turbines that would float in the Gulf of Maine are still in development and not yet a reality. But a coalition of conservation and labor advocates have high hopes for the bill, which would require the Public Utilities Commission to procure 2.8 gigawatts of wind energy over the next 12 years, enough output for 980,000 homes. The PUC has overseen similar procurements ordered by the Legislature, including those for solar projects.
Supporters say passing the proposed law would make Maine a leader in floating offshore wind power and attract billions of dollars in private investment.
"Powering the region with offshore wind will provide the clean energy we need to stabilize electricity prices and meet Maine's ambitious climate goals," said Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, co-chair of the legislative committee than handles energy matters. "This bill will make sure we're acting on the timeline necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, while ensuring strong standards for environment, labor and equity."
Other supporters include the University of Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Audubon and the Maine State Building & Construction Trade Council.
It was unclear Tuesday whether Gov. Janet Mills will endorse the proposal as it stands. Her energy director, Dan Burgess, praised the potential for offshore wind, while noting the need to balance its development with the sustainability of Maine's fishing industry and the Gulf of Maine's environment.
"With a procurement process offering an opportunity to determine the most responsible approaches to how offshore wind energy will emerge in Maine over coming years," Burgess said in a statement, "we look forward to working with the Legislature on this bill, and all proposals that seek to reduce energy costs for Maine people, increase our energy independence, grow our economy and curb greenhouse gas emissions."
The effort comes as the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is undergoing a years-long review to determine the most appropriate locations for floating offshore wind turbines in federal ocean waters. It plans to conduct a lease sale in 2024.
Last week, the agency advanced the state's application to locate 10 to 12 floating turbines for a research array in a 9,700-acre lease area in federal waters, roughly 45 miles east of Portland.
Offshore wind is seen as having great potential for New England's electric grid because winds in the Gulf of Maine peak in the winter, when Maine uses a lot of energy for heat.
OFF OTHER SHORES
Offshore wind farms have been operating in Europe for more than 30 years, but are now being developed off the East Coast of the U.S. Development reflects a priority for the Biden administration, but faces opposition from some fishing and marine conservation interests.
Projects already are underway or pending off Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. Those ventures are being built on the outer continental shelf with turbines mounted on massive steel tubes sunk into the shallow seabed. The projects use technology pioneered over decades in Europe.
But wind farms in the deeper Gulf of Maine would feature turbines set on floating platforms held in place by cables and anchors. They would be located farther offshore. This is a new and evolving technology, and a patented platform design has been pursued over the past decade at the University of Maine, most recently with its commercial partner, New England Aqua Ventus.
The partnership is working on long-delayed plans to deploy a single test turbine in state waters off Monhegan, a venture that has drawn opposition from lobster and fishing interests.
An affiliate of New England Aqua Ventus, called Pine Tree Offshore Wind, also is seeking to build a larger research array in federally leased waters. That's the project advanced last week by the ocean management bureau. The array would have a capacity of 144 megawatts and could see commercial operation in 2028.
A handful of floating wind farms have been built around the world.
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Maine would buy offshore wind power in huge quantities under propos...
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