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Maine DOT gets citizen help planning wind power port

A newly-appointed citizen advisory committee will help the Maine Department of Transportation determine the best site for an offshore wind power port.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The cargo port on Searsport’s Mack Point, which has been a working, industrial port for a century or more, sits mostly hidden from the busy world that passes nearby on coastal Route One.

Drivers don’t see the big docks, the oil tank farm or the portions of the port that bring in large cargos of raw materials for industry.

But the port could become far more visible if it becomes a center for the expected growth of offshore wind development.

From Maine to Washington and beyond, there are many official predictions that offshore wind power is coming to the Gulf of Maine.

“If we are going to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050, which is the [state] climate plan, we are going to have to develop offshore wind. It’s not going to happen without it,” said Beth Ahearn of Maine Conservation Voters, a leading environmental voice in the state.

Ahearn is helping to lead a newly-appointed citizen advisory committee, which will help the Maine Department of Transportation determine the best site for an offshore wind power port — a location where huge, floating platforms and towering wind turbines will be assembled before being towed out to sea.

The dream of offshore wind is to place the giant turbines far out at sea, beyond the view of those on land, where wind blows much of the time.

The theory is they would generate large amounts of electricity to help Maine and the northeast provide renewable electricity to replace what currently comes from plants burning fossil fuels.

The MDOT is looking at Maine’s three deep water ports — Portland, Searsport, and Eastport — as potential sites for an offshore wind port, but Searsport appears to be the favored location as of now.

The existing cargo port, the location, and the fact the state owns adjacent Sears Island all are factors. The 1980s and 90s saw plans for Sears Island to become a major new cargo port. but years of environmental opposition stopped that development.

Now the island and the mainland port area are being closely examined again. Searsport Town Manager James Gillman, the other co-chair of the advisory committee, says there seems a to be a lot of local support for the idea.

“I think most people are pretty excited about it,” Gillman said. “It is the future, the future of energy in the country. Leases are being let on the east and west coasts and I think inevitably the Gulf of Maine will be up for lease and it would be exciting to be part of that solution.”

The process will include a committee representing a wide range of interests including fishermen, business, tourism, other users of Penobscot Bay and those working to protect it.

Ahearn said the advisory committee’s job is to hear the voices of the public, and make sure the MDOT hears them, too.

“We are going to listen to all the concerns that get raised and try our best to get answers,” she said.

That process is expected to last about a year, and will begin with the first meeting in May.

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