Gov. Janet Mills said Friday that she plans to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind research farm in the Gulf of Maine, a large step in more than a decade of development in that arena and pitched as a way to meet new state climate goals.
The research array is part of an ongoing offshore wind initiative announced in 2019 by the Democratic governor, who has made climate one of her main issues since being elected two years ago. A recent clean energy report from Mills’ office touted offshore wind as a significant opportunity for economic recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession.
The site of the array, which is expected to contain up to a dozen floating wind turbines, is undetermined but will be 20 to 40 miles offshore in an area that would allow a connection to the mainland electric grid for the southern half of the state. It will occupy 16 square miles of ocean at most. Commercial offshore wind lease areas along other parts of the East Coast frequently are more than 10 times the size of the planned Maine array, the governor’s office said.
Mills said the research array is important because surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine peaked this summer and have been warming faster than almost every other water body in the world. She did not provide a timeline for the project, but the state’s climate goals are to move to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
The announcement was made in conjunction with Maine’s congressional delegation and myriad industry groups. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who co-founded a climate caucus, said in a statement that the state “should grasp the opportunity” to lead in the policy area.
Mills has directed the Governor’s Energy Office to collaborate with the commercial fishing industry and other state agencies to determine the site for the array. Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, said developing renewable energy “shouldn’t be done at the expense” of the fisheries economy.
In October, the state received a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency for the initiative to support long-term planning for offshore wind with fishery, business, environmental and science representatives. The project also will assess port and infrastructure needs and evaluate the supply chain, manufacturing and workforce opportunities.
Before launching the new array, the state intends to file an application for the research array with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees renewable energy development in federal waters that begin more than three miles off the coast.
Partners in the research include the University of Maine, whose floating foundations will be used in the array, and New England Aqua Ventus, a joint venture of Diamond Offshore Wind, which is a Mitsubishi Corp. subsidiary, and RWE Renewables, one of the world’s largest offshore wind energy companies. New England Aqua Ventus will lead the array’s development.
In August, the University of Maine asked New England Aqua Ventus for $100 million to fund its offshore wind demonstration project about two miles south of Monhegan Island. It is expected to be completed in 2023. The first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the U.S. was tested off the coast of Castine in 2013 as part of a UMaine-led project.
The Gulf of Maine has some of the highest sustained wind speeds in the world, which gives it great potential for generating clean energy and economic opportunity for Maine. Mills said offshore wind investment in the U.S. is estimated to top $70 billion through 2030.