AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of floating turbines could be spinning in the Gulf of Maine within the next decade.
Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, unveiled an early draft of a bill Tuesday that is a continuance of the goals of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ offshore wind roadmap, but it also charts a bold course for the future.
If the bill were to be passed, the state public utilities commission would compile data collected from a 12-turbine research array, designed by engineers at the University of Maine. The PUC would then decide how large the turbines should be and how many should be placed in federal waters off the coast.
"I think the more ambitious we set the goal, the more we’re going to encourage investment from the private sector," Lawrence said.
He added that "the stakes are high," while arguing that Maine needed to move away from fossil fuel dependence to fight climate change and stabilize markets. Lawrence admitted Maine ratepayers would help fund the project but said it would benefit them long term.
"The long-term goal is to get to a point where rates will stabilize and we won’t have to pay for fossil fuels down the road," he said. "[The cost of] fossil fuels are only going to increase in the future."
Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook, did not attend Lawrence's press conference, but when he was informed of the basics of the proposal, he said he supported renewable energy in general, when it is smart and economical.
The bill's early language states the PUC has the option to decline bids if they are not in Maine's interest.
"I’d want to know what they mean when they say, 'interest of ratepayers,'" Stewart said. "Because to us that is code for, 'We’re going to try to find some other ways to play some gimmicks,' rather than look at the most important number which is, 'What’s the kilowatt hour rate? How is this going to impact your bill?'"
Sarah Haggerty of the Maine Audubon Society said the bill would require plans to monitor and limit impacts on animals, because offshore wind has a risk of harming some wildlife, but she said she was pleased with the bill's promised guardrails.
"I’m confident that offshore wind can successfully co-exist with wildlife in the Gulf of Maine," she said.
Maine’s historic fishing business looms as well. Scores of fishermen had previously voiced opposition to wind projects, some feeling they’re being pushed out to make room for turbines.
Natural Resources Council of Maine Climate & Clean Energy Director Jack Shapiro, who hosted Lawrence's press conference, insisted fishermen will have a say in this process.
"We share the concerns of the fishing industry to make sure that the citing is done well here," Shapiro said in response to our question about concerns from fishermen. "What this bill does is really lay out a clear direction for the state, for climate, for economic issues and benefits that can come with offshore wind; with the real confidence that we can address these issues as those citing conversations go forward."
If the current language of the bill were passed, the PUC would be expected to accept its first project bids by mid-2025.