A persuasive coalition of labor and conservation groups has unveiled a bill focused on the development of “responsibly sited floating offshore wind” in federal waters off the coast of Maine, a proposal that would set high standards for procurement and seems to succeed in giving prominence to both environmental and economic goals.
The legislation would require the state’s Public Utilities Commission to buy enough electricity from wind power over the next 12 years to power 980,000 homes, more than in all of Maine.
Supporters of offshore wind say the bill can make Maine a leader in floating offshore wind energy and that it would safeguard a multibillion-dollar opportunity for our state. As a result, we agree that the siting of deep-water turbines is not the only thing that needs to be looked after responsibly.
Maine’s economy and our labor market stand to benefit from appropriately managed and supported offshore wind development. The introduction of wind power can also offer affordability and price stability to households that have struggled with the inverse for some time. And the abundance of wind — particularly, as advocates point out, in the power-hungry winter months — can, critically, take us off fossil fuels.
“Using technology built right here in Maine and guided by the best available research and data, we can generate clean reliable electricity, create thousands of good-paying jobs for Maine people, and protect the Gulf of Maine’s unique ecosystem and the people and wildlife that depend on it,” said Jack Shapiro of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
These opportunities have been lying in wait for this kind of refinement for a while. In 2009, a task force reporting to the then-governor described the winds in the Gulf of Maine as “one of the great untapped energy resources on earth,” capable of fulfilling a “significant portion” of Maine’s energy needs, and potentially responsible for the creation and support of “thousands of quality jobs.” We know much more about that potential now.
In the years that followed, the LePage administrations did not look fondly on wind energy.
Although Gov. Mills herself did not issue a statement on the new bill, the administration’s energy director responded positively, saying the administration looked forward to working with the Legislature on the bill and on any that “seek to reduce energy costs for Maine people, increase our energy independence, grow our economy and curb greenhouse gas emissions.”
Here’s the roll call of the bodies behind the bill introduced Jan. 24: Maine Audubon, Maine Conservation Voters, the Maine Labor Climate Council, the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The new bill comes hot on the heels of another encouraging breakthrough: The state’s application to lease 9,700 acres on the U.S. continental shelf for a floating wind power research site has progressed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The agency will now review Maine’s application for the so-called floating research array, comprising between 10 and 12 wind turbines developed by the University of Maine. The deployment of the array will give Maine a chance to study the development of such an operation in practice and determine the effects it has on fishing, trade routes and marine life.
We appear to have something like momentum on offshore wind this month. The political climate for a proposal that sets lofty goals but involves a firm environmental balancing act has rarely been more hospitable. Public support should be strong. An endorsement of a sensible, responsible way to proceed seems to us a sensible, responsible way to proceed.