In this Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, three of Deepwater Wind's five turbines stand in the water off Block Island, R.I. Credit: Michael Dwyer / AP

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Tony Buxton is a partner with Preti Flaherty. He represents New England Aqua Ventus and Pine Tree Offshore Wind, developing the Monhegan Project and the Maine Research Array, respectively.

Gov. Janet Mills’ Offshore Wind Initiative in 2021 negotiated a historic bipartisan legislative compromise to facilitate offshore wind development while protecting the Gulf of Maine from threats to fisheries and lobstering. The compromise banned offshore wind in Maine waters, mandated a power contract to enable construction and operation of the Maine Research Array and established the Maine Offshore Wind Research Consortium, all to protect our iconic Gulf of Maine resources, relying on both science and common sense.

The compromise continued Maine’s decades of preparation for offshore wind development to come to the Gulf of Maine’s vast and wind-rich federal waters over which Maine has no legal control. The paired objectives of resource protection and deliberate offshore wind development remain wise.

The Maine Research Array (MERA) is a critical next step in this compromise. MERA will be a floating base anchored some 40 miles out in the Gulf of Maine to conduct scientific research on how to accommodate offshore wind with fishing, lobstering and the gulf’s ecosystem. Composed of 10 turbines, each 800 feet high, floating on Maine-made rock, concrete and steel platforms 310 feet in diameter and each weighing 20,000 tons, MERA will conduct scientific research and demonstrate the University of Maine’s patented VOLTURNUS floating platform technology to the world. The construction of MERA at a Maine port also would give Maine a vital lead in the imminent offshore wind construction industry. The promise of essential research, climate-mitigating clean energy and significant economic development for Maine remains terrifically exciting.

But, for MERA’s construction jobs and its research to come to life, Maine must first build a port capable of building these massive floating wind projects. No such ports exist in the United States. The Mills administration, well aware of both need and opportunity, is properly focused on developing a port. Yet obvious essential steps remain to be taken, including permitting, financing and construction of the port.

Three bills pending in Augusta’s ongoing legislative session touch directly on Maine offshore wind port development. Unfortunately, each is focused far more on which companies or unions will build the port and offshore wind projects than on the actions necessary to get the port built.

This is backwards. No port means no jobs, no union work, no research to protect the Gulf of Maine. It’s that simple. Maine must not allow other states, particularly Massachusetts, which compete powerfully against Maine, to build the ports that drive offshore wind benefit. Maine’s decades-long Gulf of Maine offshore wind strategy is at risk.

Power from floating offshore wind is essential; it also will not be inexpensive. For Maine to benefit economically, floating offshore wind purchased by Maine must be built at and maintained by workers at a port built in Maine. The pending legislation, LD 1895, would mandate 3,000 megawatts of new Maine offshore wind purchases, but the legislation must also mandate tying those purchases to at least one Maine port where floating offshore wind will be built and launched. The pending legislation does not. This fatal breach can be repaired. 

The Maine Research Array is essential to protect the Gulf of Maine. It cannot be built without the port envisioned by the Mills administration. Without that port, Maine’s own world-class floating technology cannot be built for the array. A port never built cannot provide floating technologies for other oceans, with economic benefit to Maine.

Other laudable legislative goals must not blind Maine to our competitive position. Maine sails in a historic race against larger states and nations to win the benefits of offshore wind development. We have the advantages of knowledge and ability, but time is short. Maine must be the “first mover” in building an offshore wind port on the East Coast. 

Maine’s legislation must anchor all its goals on the one goal that secures all others: the building of a port in Maine for the construction and launch of Maine and other floating offshore wind technologies. 

Maine can’t wait. It’s time for the port.