Lobstermen, politicians, environmentalists, scientists and representatives of dozens of other coastal constituencies and private interests met Dec. 14 at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center to take on the sprawling question of how Maine should approach offshore wind energy development.

The daylong conference, organized by The Island Institute, drew 130 attendees from around the state and several from southern New England and nearby Canadian provinces.

While not related to any specific wind energy proposal, the conference took place against the backdrop of a surge in interest in offshore wind. In September the Maine Public Utilities Commission issued a request for proposals for a deep-water wind and tidal energy pilot project. The University of Maine is vigorously studying deep-water offshore wind energy installations. The federal government has set a target of producing 54,000 megawatts of wind power from Atlantic coastal waters by 2030, and the Baldacci administration’s Wind Energy Task Force has signed Maine up for 5,000 of those.

In the conference’s closing session, groups from an earlier work session pitched questions to a panel that included representatives of the University of Maine, the State Planning Office, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat Association, The Island Institute and MPUC.

These ranged from wide open (“Why Maine?”), to philosophical (“Is it better to be proactive or reactive in siting offshore wind?”), to practical (“Who is investing and how are we going to attract investors?” and “Where will Maine see benefits and what are the state’s goals for making sure Maine sees benefits?”).

A question that originated with Rep. Stacey Fitts of PIttsfield, who served on Baldacci’s Wind Energy Task Force, seemed to hit all of the above, and draw some laughter from the crowd.

“With the change in administration, is this conference even necessary?” he asked.