The Maine legislature just went all out for offshore wind – just not in their own back yard. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited the value of the state’s fisheries and marine recreational areas as she signed legislation to impose a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind in state waters. Federal waters, however, begin just 3 miles from the coastline.
The ban is intended to provide a buffer to protect these two major anchors of the Pine Tree State’s economy until results are in from the nation’s first research array for floating offshore wind. Thanks to another law signed by Governor Mills, the dozen or so floating turbines that will form the research array will be 20 to 40 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine.
The “small-scale” project, to be spread over 16 square miles, is intended to provide a measured, deliberative approach. State government will engage fishing industry expertise to minimize potential harms and maximize the benefits to Mainers from offshore wind. But not everyone is happy with even this level of offshore wind activity.
It is easy to understand the rush to plant these 600- to 850-foot-tall behemoths into the Atlantic, given President Biden’s promises of over $70 billion in offshore wind investment by 2030. The Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Maine has some of the world’s highest sustained wind speeds. Advocates salivate at the gulf’s “great potential” for generating clean energy and economic opportunity – at least for the subsidized developers of the projects.
But the gulf waters are too deep to anchor turbines to the ocean floor. Floating turbine technology is still under development in the U.S., and there is inadequate scientific information about its potential effects on fisheries and the marine environment. Each turbine base is as large as a football field and must be anchored to the seafloor with multiple 10-foot-wide chains. Each turbine must then be linked to onshore transmission facilities with heavy electric cables.
Protecting Maine’s fisheries is critical to the state’s economic health. Even in the COVID-depleting year 2020, Maine fisheries earned over half a billion dollars. Protect the Gulf of Maine (GOM) notes that the “breadbasket of the Atlantic” is one of the world’s most biologically productive marine ecosystems, with over 3,000 marine and bird species in salt marshes, seagrass beds, tidal mudflats, underwater rocky outcrops, and kelp beds.
Protect the GOM is not thrilled with the “offshore wind research project” authorized by Governor Mills. They say the project is going ahead far too quickly and with no assurance that Maine communities are not left behind in the rush to develop the gulf.
This assurance is the supposed focus of a comprehensive wind industry roadmap, to be developed pursuant to a $2 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to the Governor’s Energy. But the roadmap project will not even be started before the research array project plan is to be submitted to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
Massachusetts fishery interests are livid about the recently approved 84-turbine Vineyard Wind project. This project, sited off the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard, like the smaller Block Island Wind Farm, has already had problems with the undersea power lines that connect the turbines to onshore transmission facilities.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a fisheries watchdog group, pointed to a study that found the BOEM had significantly underestimated the intensity of fishing in the project area and thus seriously undervalued the fisheries – especially the squid fishery.
The “benevolent” government offered the fisheries a “whopping” $16 million to offset the loss of fishing resulting from turbine operations. This measly sum is, however, but a drop in soon-to-be-empty fishing buckets. As recently as 2006, marine fisheries added over $4 billion in sales and over $2.3 billion in personal income to the Massachusetts economy. The turbine project nearly assures a total loss for fisheries in the project area.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which reviewed the Vineyard Wind project, observed that, “Due to the placement of the turbines, it is likely that the entire 75,614-acre area will be abandoned by commercial fisheries due to difficulties with navigation.” The Corps further noted that, “(T)he discharge of fill material associated with the project will [likely] result in major impacts to mollusks, fish, and crustaceans in the project area.”
New Jersey, which is aggressively pursuing offshore wind, just doubled its offshore wind portfolio with approval of two 1.1-gigawatt wind farms to go along with another of similar size approved earlier. Critical components of the wind turbines will be assembled in a New Jersey port that Governor Phil Murphy is promoting as a hub for future offshore wind development. Both new projects expect a rapid rubber stamp from the Biden Administration.
The Ocean Wind project, scheduled to begin operations 15 miles offshore from Atlantic City in 2024, will use up to 99 giant (853-foot-high) Haliade-X turbines. Save Our Shoreline, a group formed by Ocean City (NJ) residents has already launched a petition to stop the development on grounds that it will disrupt marine life and impact both fisheries and tourism.
The New Jersey wind behemoths all traverse the Atlantic Flyway, which draws birdwatchers to the Jersey shore. Residents are demanding “a study (to include the impact of extreme vibrations on fish populations) in our waters – not England’s waters or Denmark’s waters.” Others complain that the tall towers will destroy the “pristine, natural beauty” of the Jersey shoreline and ruin the still-profitable tourist industry.
Hawaii residents, too, are skeptical about the haste with which giant offshore wind projects are being foisted upon them – without any real studies of the environmental impacts to marine life or even onshore development. The Conservation Council for Hawaii, an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, is firmly opposed to offshore industrial wind.
Executive Director Moana Bjur says giant turbines will disturb marine life, scour the ocean floor, and endanger cultural landscapes in areas where humpback whales give birth and feed and where seabirds are rebounding. Giant windmills, she added, would slaughter the Laytan albatross (moli), shearwaters wedgetails, and other avian species.
Across the U.S., local residents demand the kind of environmental impact studies for offshore wind that Washington requires for onshore mines, pipelines, or any industrial activity that disturbs land, water, or air. Others complain that wind turbine projects are excused for the deaths of huge numbers of birds and bats. Offshore wind adds fish and other marine life to the list of species at risk.
Environmentalists fight industrial permits (for other than wind and solar) tooth and nail, often causing decades-long delays in startup that cost billions in lost revenues and completely derail many projects. Many, however, have not demanded equal scrutiny of offshore wind. But a growing chorus of affected citizens from Maine to Hawaii is signaling that the free pass for wind giants may soon be ending.
That is, it would be but for the Biden Administration’s feckless pursuit of glory and Net Zero. “Saving the planet” (forcing unreliable, expensive energy down our throats) is apparently much more important than birds, bats, fish, or crustaceans – or humans.