S5E3 Policy and Environmental Impacts: Maine’s Offshore Wind Advantage (Part 2)

This episode is part 2 of a two-part series on Maine’s offshore wind efforts. In this episode, we’ll be following up on our interview with Dr. Habib Dagher, Executive Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, by interviewing Celina Cunningham, Nicholas Lund, and Jack Shapiro on the environmental and policy implications of Maine’s offshore wind efforts. If you haven’t listened to our interview with Dr. Dagher and would like an introduction to Maine’s offshore wind efforts, make sure to listen to Season 5 Episode 2: Habib Dagher & Leading Energy: Maine’s Offshore Wind Advantage (Part 1).


[00:00:00] Nick Lund: We are clearly seeing the impacts of climate change, and we know that we can’t wait to act any longer. Offshore wind, it is a real opportunity that lots of states and nations would be excited to have. The amount of power that we can drive off our coasts cleanly and locally, it is incredible.

[00:00:26] Eric Miller: That was Nick Lund, one of our panelists in today’s episode, during our discussion of the environmental and policy implications of offshore wind in Maine.

Hello and welcome back to Maine Policy Matters, the official podcast of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, where we discuss the policy matters that are most important to Maine’s people and why Maine policy matters at the local, state, and national levels. My name is Eric Miller, and I’ll be your host.

Today’s episode is part two of a two part series on Maine’s offshore wind efforts. In this episode, we’ll be following up on our interview with Dr. Habib Dagher, executive director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, by interviewing Celina Cunningham, Nicholas Lund, and Jack Shapiro on the environmental and policy implications of Maine’s offshore wind efforts.

If you haven’t listened to our interview with Dr. Dagher and would like an introduction to Maine’s offshore wind efforts, please make sure to listen to Season 5, Episode 2 of Maine Policy Matters titled, Habib Dagher and Leading Energy: Maine’s Offshore Wind Advantage, Part 1.

The offshore wind discussion has many nuanced environmental and policy elements, and our esteemed guests will help you understand this issue more thoroughly. Selina Cunningham is the Deputy Director of the Governor’s Energy Office. As Deputy Director, Selina leads the Renewable Energy and Markets team.

Prior to joining the GEO, Selena worked in the public and private sector on energy and natural resources, including with the Department of the Interior and as staff at the U. S. House of Representatives. Nick Lund is the advocacy and outreach manager for Maine Audubon. A graduate of Maine Law, Nick worked on landscape scale energy policy issues for the National Parks Conservation Association in Washington, D. C., until moving back home to Maine in 2018. He is also a nature writer and the author of several books including the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of Maine, published in 2022, and the forthcoming books on evolution and avian conservation.

Jack Shapiro is the Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and has more than fifteen years of advocacy, policy, and organizing experience.

Prior to joining NRCM in 2021, Jack worked at Greenpeace USA in organizing for action, pushing for ambitious federal climate policies, and served in the federal government working on diverse issues ranging from conservation, clean energy, and green buildings, to community resilience and biodefense. Now, on to our panel discussion.

Hello all, thank you so much for joining us today. How does offshore wind fit into the state’s energy generation mix in the next five years and beyond? How will it affect energy prices for residential and commercial consumers? Celina, we’ll start with you.

[00:03:37] Celina Cunningham: Electricity supply is over-reliant on natural gas, and Maine is the most home-heating-oil-reliant state in the country.

So offshore wind presents an important opportunity to both decarbonize and diversify our energy mix, stabilize our energy prices, and insulate Maine people and businesses from the volatile global energy markets we’ve seen over the last several years. And offshore wind is going to be a critically important part of our long term energy needs and our renewable energy mix as we meet our state’s climate and clean energy goals.

Offshore wind is an important part of our critical source of our renewable energy to help meet our climate and clean energy goals. And we have gone through a comprehensive planning effort through the development of the Maine offshore wind roadmap. This was an 18 month process to work with nearly 100 stakeholders, experts inside and outside of government. To put together a plan about how to responsibly advance offshore wind and a key component of that was identifying that we do need offshore wind to meet our long term energy goals. And so that is what we’re focusing on making sure that we advance the industry responsibly. And in a way that protects rate payers as well.

I’ll just add that in July, the governor signed a bill to authorize the procurement of offshore wind up to 3 gigawatts by 2040, as well as this legislation included important components related to advancing research, engagement with the fishing industry and the public, supporting the advancement of ports, and making sure that we have a comprehensive plan for responsible advancement of offshore wind in Maine.

And this planning effort will help make sure that we have, bring the lowest cost renewable energy to Maine as we advance offshore wind.

[00:05:18] Eric Miller: Gotcha. Thank you for that response. Jack, do you have anything to add to how wind can fit into the state’s energy generation mix?

[00:05:27] Jack Shapiro: Yeah I think as we think about where offshore wind fits in, we know that we need to move away from these expensive and dirty fossil fuels to both meet our climate goals and to help reduce people’s exposure to the price volatility that comes along with being dependent on natural gas for power generation in New England.

And offshore wind is going to play a really important role there. In the Gulf of Maine, we have some of the strongest and most consistent winds in the world. Which means that each turbine that’s out there in the water is going to be giving us more bang for our buck. The way that offshore wind fits in with the rest of a diverse, renewable energy supply in New England and for Maine is that, we’re going to have things like solar at all scales, on rooftops and sort of the larger solar installations.

Those are going to be generating a lot of energy during the day and in the summer, and offshore wind generates most of its energy at night and in the winter. And as we sort of transition our heating systems to being based on electricity, like high efficiency heat pumps and things like that, we’re going to need that winter energy supply.

So offshore wind is a really important part of that diverse energy mix. And overall, it can help put downward pressure on sort of wholesale market prices. It can help avoid some of those really, they call them grid peaks, which happen in the winter, which is when we sort of need to fire up those backup power plants, like Wyman Station, the big oil plant in Yarmouth.

And that really drives the energy costs overall over the whole year. So that’s one of the ways that offshore wind can both help be part of that diverse renewable energy supply,

but also put downward pressure on those wholesale market prices long term.

[00:07:09] Eric Miller: It’s fascinating how some of these renewable energies and technologies are complimentary to one another.

We’ve touched on how these energy sources have some synergies. How will wind energy affect those in, we’ve highlighted some of the complementary ways, but how will it affect natural gas and other energy sources in Maine and how the New England grid is run as a whole? Celina, we’ll start with you again.

[00:07:35] Celina Cunningham: So Maine is part of a regional grid. ISO New England, the region overall is overly reliant on natural gas for power generation. And so while we’ve taken a lot of steps in Maine to advance clean energy, including onshore wind, solar, and other resources, we also want to make sure that we are reducing the reliance on natural gas for Maine and for our region more broadly.

And this, as you’ve seen in your electricity bills over the last couple of years, those price spikes are a direct result of the global natural gas prices that are really putting the Maine people at risk in terms of high prices. And so we need to make sure that we have the renewable resources in New England to reduce our emissions clearly, as well as to make sure that we’re stabilizing prices.

And in the governor’s energy office, we have been producing a number of reports that show what our long term energy needs are and how that will affect overall costs and in the next several weeks, we’ll be advancing our 2040 plan and that will help provide additional information about how to meet our long term energy needs with a diverse mix of energy resources to help reduce that price volatility caused by natural gas and other fossil fuels on our electricity grid.

[00:08:58] Eric Miller: It’s interesting how the prices vary so much, yet the presence or availability of that when a consumer turns on their lights, they expect the lights to turn on, and how there is a sense of security with residential consumers about how these fossil fuels have, while the price is volatile, there’s an expectation that will always be there. And there is that fear that relying, the expectation that it will be there to provide the energy is one of the big skepticisms of renewable energy.

And it’s amazing how the innovations of offshore wind and better solar panels are starting to alleviate some of those fears. Jack, do you have anything to add to how wind can affect how the grid is run?

[00:09:39] Jack Shapiro: Yeah, I think just a couple of things to add. I think, Celina covered a lot of it, but I think offshore wind does play this really important role in us taking our energy destiny into our own hands.

Celina mentioned the Russian invasion of Ukraine threw global oil and gas markets into turmoil. That was really the driver primarily of the billing increases that people saw. When people were looking at their bills increase, that is because of our exposure to global oil markets. That’s not an exposure that’s going to go away until we make this transition to more locally generated clean energy. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of tensions in the Middle East, in the Red Sea, a major oil shipping route. We could see this happen again, and it will continue to happen as sort of an inherent part of being dependent on fossil fuels as a state and as a region. So it’s really important there.

One thing. Just you mentioned the reliability issue, and I think that’s really important to talk about. The floating offshore wind projects that are already operating in other parts of the world are seeing capacity factors of around 50 percent or more. What that means is of sort of the maximum potential, if the wind was blowing at a high speed 100 percent of the time, that would be 100 percent.

We know that the winds are variable. For solar, the sun only shines during the day, so there’s this sort of percentage that’s talked about. Fossil fuel plants like natural gas or even other kinds of large power plants like nuclear have outages as well. There are capacity factors for those plants as well.

The idea that they run 100 percent of the time, is not actually the case. And what’s tricky about those kinds of plants is that their outages are often unplanned. They come because of an equipment failure or as we saw in Texas had experiences with not having some of their plants able to withstand some of the extreme weather. Ironically linked to climate change that they’ve experienced there.

So even though renewable energy doesn’t necessarily run it a hundred percent all the time, it’s actually quite predictable because we know whether or not it’s going to be cloudy. We know whether or not it’s going to be windy, and that is actually something that is in some cases, can be easier for grid operators to manage, then if you suddenly have a large gas plant dropout or a nuclear plant go offline and maybe need four to six months for a key repair to be able to come back online. I think that’s just a really important piece of context that while these renewable energy sources can be variable, they’re actually a lot more predictable than the existing system that we have in some cases.

The only other point that I’d add for folks about how the offshore wind sort of integrates into the grid is, I think, a really interesting conversation that we’re going to be having in the years to come about interconnecting these projects. And how do we get the power from these projects connected into the grid?

The grid was never designed to have connections out into the ocean. That was never something that was contemplated when the grid was designed. So that’s something we’re really going to have to think about as a energy policy community. I know the governor’s office and a number of other New England states have been working together thinking about the transmission needs and the interconnection needs.

And there’s a number of different ways we can do that. And some of them hopefully can really help bring some of this power ashore at lower costs, which will ultimately translate to lower relative energy bills for folks if we can get some of that right. So that’s a conversation we’re really looking forward to in the years to come.

[00:13:09] Eric Miller: Yeah. And you make a really interesting point with the predictability and folks that have had the fortune to travel or be up on current events and the nuance of energy demand around the world is that many places have rolling blackouts when there’s surges in energy demand. And there’s potential for the stressor, whether it be the high heat from very sunny day and a very warm climate and the stress on air conditioning there.

I know solar panels, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here, I’m not a specialist in this, but that their efficiency is best when it’s sunny and 60 degrees, but as it gets hotter, their efficiency goes down. So while it won’t be like 100 percent like the most highest efficient operating capacity that the solar panel’s at, but at least it’s working with the stressor to make the air conditioning work.

So that predictability point’s very interesting to me.

[00:14:02] Jack Shapiro: That’s where really offshore wind plays that other key role. Right now the New England system peaks in the summer because of air conditioning needs. As we switch our heating away from heating oil, being the largest single heating source towards electricity, we’re going to see those peaks happen in the winter, and that’s when offshore wind is the strongest.

So it is a good match to our regional peculiarities of our energy demand.

[00:14:25] Celina Cunningham: I’ll just add to that I think, Eric, earlier you mentioned the reliability and resiliency of our grid. Maine families have over the last couple of months seen a difficult situation with the power outages for a long period of time and the impact to our coastline and thinking about making sure that we have a grid that is reliable and resilient in the face of climate change and in the face of advancing renewable energy is critical and doing so in a way that obviously makes sure that people are able to turn the lights on when they want and so as we do bring on these new energy sources, We work with the ISO New England, the grid operators and other experts to make sure that we do, and the public utilities commission are doing so in a way that is protecting the system and protecting the ability for people to be able to rely on their lights going on, their power thing when they need it.

[00:15:17] Eric Miller: Nick, do you have anything to add on this one?

[00:15:19] Nick Lund: Yeah Maine Audubon’s job is to make sure that wildlife and habitat are protected.

That means a lot these days. It means going to renewable energy over fossil fuels fundamentally to try to staunch the bleeding that climate change is causing to our wildlife. But it also means making sure that we do it right. There will be impacts that we are working to understand from offshore wind and learning about those impacts and avoiding mitigating, compensating for them is what we’re all about.

So in terms of the management offshore, that really starts with siting. As the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is working on establishing their wind energy areas. These are places that, turbines. can or cannot go. We are working to understand which areas might have the most wildlife impact and avoiding those areas to the extent possible.

There’s a lot to that. Some examples include making sure that turbines are out of what’s called Lobster Management Area 1, LMA 1, where a lot of the lobstering and other fishing occurs. It also includes monitoring populations of seabirds. So Maine has famous seabird nesting colonies close to shore off rocky islands on the coast.

There’s a large body of research and we’re working to encourage it to be even larger to understand where exactly those birds move to forage, where they are going offshore so we can avoid those areas wherever possible. Things like that, there’s marine mammal impacts or areas that we can try to avoid.

Lots of environmental concerns go into where we place the turbines as well from the offshore management.

[00:16:45] Eric Miller: Gotcha. And so we’ve covered the destination endpoint idealized version of what the potential is for this technology. Getting there is one heck of a struggle. Celina, can you speak to the governance of offshore areas and how they’ll be zoned and regulated and how that will affect offshore wind development?

[00:17:06] Celina Cunningham: Sure. So in Maine, there are state waters that go from our coastline three miles out. Recently, the governor has made clear through legislation that we will not be developing commercial offshore wind in those three mile areas off our coast. Beyond that, three miles and beyond, the federal government is responsible for leasing areas for offshore wind.

And the state has been working with the federal government who is leading this process to identify areas of lease conflict from other ocean uses to lease areas for future commercial development. And that has been an ongoing process. And through that process, the state has been using the information we received through the roadmap and through broad stakeholder input to make sure that we’re really advocating for Maine’s priorities in that regional conversation.

That’s where the federal government will make a final decision in terms of protecting areas of greatest importance to the fishing industry, protecting areas that are important for the Gulf of Maine ecosystem, as well as thinking about the overall cost of energy and balancing some of these multiple factors.

By the end of 2024, the federal government through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will offer leases to commercial developers. At that point, whoever wins those leases will have to go through a separate permitting process to get approval to build projects. And at that point, there’ll be opportunities for other agencies to weigh in about making sure that they follow applicable laws and rules related to development and protection of species and other considerations.

This will include stakeholder input. I also want to point out that separately, the state of Maine has the ability to issue proposals for purchasing the offshore wind power. So we in the governor’s energy office will be developing solicitations to purchase the energy from some of these projects. So that process will be ongoing in our office for the next couple of years to do planning and stakeholder engagement to make sure that we are meeting the objectives of the legislation that passed, which includes supporting a strong Maine workforce, also protecting the environment, protecting the fishing industry and doing so in a transparent and thoughtful manner.

Developers will have to participate in that as well. So it’s a complicated issue. And when that involves a lot of different state and federal entities, the good thing I think that we are trying to do is make sure that there are opportunities for stakeholders to learn about the process and have ability to provide input and help shape the results because this is obviously critically important to get right for Maine.

[00:19:37] Eric Miller: Thank you for indulging the deployment and development process. I find that to be fascinating. Maybe I’m not in the majority there of those that find these intricate details of how that all gets developed and deployed and ultimately done.

And so thank you for indulging that. Nick, from the ecological perspective, what does ocean zone management mean to you?

[00:19:59] Nick Lund: Yeah, sure. It’s long been an issue. I think the difference now is that we are clearly seeing the impacts of climate change, and we know that we can’t wait to act any longer. Offshore wind is a real opportunity that lots of states and nations would be excited to have.

The amount of power that we can drive off our coasts cleanly and locally is incredible. And with all of the obvious impacts from climate change, whether it’s the species movements or the coastal flooding or you name it, we can’t afford to not take this opportunity. And so when we talk about being skeptical of the environmental impacts or understanding the environmental impacts, it’s not just about offshore wind, it’s about offshore wind or doing nothing.

Because if we don’t do anything, the environmental impacts are far worse. That said, we know we need to do it right, right? This is an opportunity to not just to do it, but to do it right. And so the work that Maine Audubon and a lot of our partners are doing in the wildlife space and beyond is working all the policy levers we can to make sure we’re doing it right.

That begins ,with understanding what the impacts are, researching and trying to find sources to fund research, requiring the funding of research to, to understand what the impacts are when we do this, that way we can, for example, site turbines in a place that is of less conflict. We can, for example, include lease stipulations when the leases are ready, that require certain environmental mitigations or other opportunities to avoid potential impacts.

And taking other policy levers too. The bill that the governor signed last year, 1895, included a requirement that the energy that flows into Maine from these projects, the projects have to have plans about how to avoid and minimize impacts to Gulf fish and wildlife and marine habitats. Really, our job is to understand what the impacts are and then use all the policy levers available to us to make sure that we can try to protect wildlife.

[00:21:41] Eric Miller: Thank you. Yeah, it’s a fascinating problem to address as there’s so many trade offs and ultimately with the largest challenge of our generation being climate change. And so accounting for minimal ecological unintended consequences is very important. Jack, do you have anything to add to the ocean zoning?

[00:22:02] Jack Shapiro: To some extent, the offshore wind issue is simple, right? This is going to play a key role in our energy future. It has all kinds of benefits for Maine in terms of energy benefits, climate benefits, economic benefits, but the specifics of deployment are complex. We touched on a couple of those already.

Siting is a huge issue, and there’s a lot of ways to get at that. The federal government weighs a lot of different stakeholder input, including from all of us on the call have provided input into that federal process on behalf of the constituencies and interests that we represent. And they cut in a whole bunch of different ways.

On siting, for example, by advocating for siting projects outside of Lobster Management Area 1 to reduce nearly all conflict with Maine’s lobster industry. We have the benefit of likely reducing a ton of impact on foraging seabirds because more of that forage is going to happen closer to shore. But we do have cost impacts.

Siting projects farther offshore will be more expensive in terms of the transmission costs for bringing that to shore. And so weighing those trade offs is complicated and multi directional. The other thing though too is that we all consider is that the Gulf of Maine doesn’t just belong to Maine. The areas that are being considered for offshore wind development go all the way down to basically east of Cape Cod.

And Massachusetts has five times the energy demand that Maine needs. If we’re going to be successful as decarbonizing as a region, Massachusetts has to be successful at decarbonizing as a state, which means that there’s going to be offshore wind that’s built in the Gulf of Maine that probably connects directly to Massachusetts and helps them sort of meet their goals.

We have to think about how do we advocate in a way that uses our position to advocate for the things that we want and need, but also allows everybody to be successful because ultimately addressing climate change is the biggest collective action challenge that we have.

[00:23:58] Eric Miller: So diversifying our energy infrastructure has long been challenging for a number of reasons.

How will offshore wind address economic, environmental, and aesthetic concerns? What’s the status of the research and what we know regarding ecological impacts of offshore wind development with regarding birds, whales, and other ecological systems? And what would you say to those that are skeptical? Nick, let’s start with you.

[00:24:23] Nick Lund: Sure. This is something that we are focusing on very intently. Offshore wind is new in Maine, perhaps, but it’s not a new technology around the world. And so we have a body of evidence from other places around the world, as well as a growing body from some sites along the East Coast, about the impacts. We are working to figure out what’s applicable to the Gulf of Maine and what’s not.

What else do we need to learn? I have to say that this is a question that we can no longer sort of consider in a vacuum. What are the impacts? Because we have to think about what are the impacts of not acting as well. And we know the impacts of climate change. We’re seeing them every day, right? Our habitats are shifting northward and birds are moving with it.

There’s been a scientifically measured three degree increase in temperatures since 1895 in Maine. Ticks are surviving the winters when they didn’t used to before. Sea level rise is eroding beaches in our Maine, which among other problems is a problem for things like piping plovers and other beach nesting species.

The Gulf of Maine itself is one of the fastest warming water bodies in the world. And the species mix that we’ve long known there is changing rapidly. There are bottom of the food chain species that are simply on steep declines in the Gulf of Maine. And then the attendant species like herring and cod and sand lance and even whales that eat those species are moving as well to find new species.

Of course, as those fish move, then the things that eat the fish have to move. And that includes our seabirds that are including puffins that famously nest in the Gulf of Maine. When we think about the overall impacts, we have to think about not just offshore wind or no offshore wind, but climate change, if we don’t act.

That said, we spent a lot of time thinking about what the potential impacts in the Gulf of Maine are. We basically break it down into a couple of different categories. The one is migratory birds and bats. So every spring and fall, millions and billions of birds fly north to south to breeding grounds in Maine.

We think about what their impact from the turbines might be. These birds, as they migrate, fly at thousands of feet, right? So outside of the rotor zone of the turbines, they mostly focus their migration inland. They don’t love to be out over the water, although we do know some fly over the water. In certain conditions like foggy weather, rainy weather, those birds could come lower than they normally fly to migrate.

We are looking into ways to understand how we can address that. That could be changing lighting on turbines or paint on the turbines or shut down times when we know birds in the area. But overall there are many fewer migratory birds over the gulf than there are inland. Seabirds are a really important one.

Maine is famous for our seabird nesting colonies that includes Atlantic puffins and razorbills and murres and storm petrels and birds like that. These birds breed in the summer on rocky islands in the Gulf of Maine and then go to and from those islands to feed and forage. In the winter, there are birds out in the Gulf, just looking for populations.

Each species is different, and we’re learning from elsewhere in the world, and from the research we have in the Gulf about how species may respond to turbines. Some may be displaced, some may be attracted, some may not be affected at all. Species travel at different heights. A lot of species, seabirds, fly at a level that’s too low, too close to the water to be in the rotor zone.

Others fly too high. So understanding how each species might respond to turbines and then either avoiding areas that might be of conflict or taking similar measures from before about ways to cause seabirds to not come into contact with turbines.

Marine mammals are another one. We have dozens of whales and seal species in the Gulf of Maine. We’re thinking very hard about how to protect them and what impacts there might be. Overall, the science that we see so far is that we don’t expect many impacts. Some of the things that folks are worried about in other parts of the world are not applicable to these gulf turbines. In the Gulf of Maine, unlike anywhere else, except for a couple in Scotland, we’re going to have floating turbines.

So most every other offshore wind turbine in the world is drilled into the seabed. In order to do that, you need to do seismic surveys. You need to actually physically drill into the seabed. That has acoustic impacts and perhaps other impacts. We’re not doing that in Maine. The turbines in Maine, because the water is so deep out in the Gulf will be anchored to the seabed with chains, doesn’t require a loud acoustic drilling.

So the acoustic impacts there are not a concern. The chains themselves that hold the turbines together are not a tangle risk. Like their electrification gear might be, they’re just. Something too big to tangle whales. We are looking into in other parts of the world, looking into what we call secondary entanglement.

What happens if a floating piece of derelict fishing gear gets caught in a cable. Offshore wind companies have incentives to remove that stuff. It could affect how a turbine is staying, so it will be removed. We are looking at the underwater acoustic impacts of sort of operating turbines, which are very low and also electromagnetic field impacts. EMS as the energy is moved also very low and shown not to be an impact on marine mammals. Finally, fish and lobster, those populations, studies have shown that in terms of the physical impacts of fish, that there really isn’t an impact from turbines that we know so far. Turbines can act as sort of a reef effect, and that can bring fish in, and so can be a good area for recreational fishermen, frankly.

We’re looking at the effects of electromagnetic fields on lobsters. The science is not showing us anything there. The cables are buried underground and emit a very low EMF to lobsters, and then only in sort of the area directly above it.

We know as much as we know, but we need to know more. And so again, we’re using all the policy levers we can to try to make sure that research is continued throughout the life of the project.

That’s with the research array that we’re working on creating in the Gulf, but also for the … process. So learning all that we can and avoiding those areas is what we’re about. But we do feel that compared to any other way to generate energy, offshore wind has fewer environmental impacts.

[00:29:54] Jack Shapiro: I’ll let Nick’s sort of substantial comments remain unsullied, but just adding the point about there is a lot that is known about offshore winds operation.

Floating platform technology has been a thing in the offshore energy space in oil and gas elsewhere in the world, for half a century. Offshore wind technology has been operating in Europe and other places for 30 years. The unique impacts in the Gulf of Maine and its interaction with our specific ecosystem and wildlife is something that’s new, but there is a lot that’s known where we can map some of that data over.

These kinds of issues, just want to point out, we have a number of really important hooks to ensure that these projects are being built and operated in an environmentally responsible way. One of them is through the proposal process that Celina mentioned earlier that the state will be constructing with stakeholder input for what is required from these developers as they bid in to sell their power from their projects to Maine.

So that’s going to be one important area. They’re required to sort of create these environmental and wildlife mitigation plans. Also, the federal permitting process is extensive. These projects have to go through multi year, multi step processes, all of which are open for public comment. They’re a little bit technical. They’re a little bit arcane. Probably something could be done to make them more accessible to your average person, but a lot of groups like ours and we have a number of national partners as well who really focus on these operating permits and construction permits and making sure that these are held to the highest standard from an environmental perspective.

Nick mentioned research and sort of that we want to have more research about the specific impacts and that’s true. And we want to be able to do that, but also understanding that we can’t know everything before we move forward. And if we were to try to know everything, we would miss the boat on climate.

And we would have these impacts that we, really are already seeing start to massively impact some of the same things we’re saying we’re trying to protect. That’s a tension I think that we also have to balance going through while obviously trying to influence these processes to take into account the best available science and do whatever we can to provide resources and more research so that as the offshore wind buildout occurs in the Gulf of Maine, that we’re also learning and iterating to make sure that we’re building these in as responsible a way as possible.

In terms of the economic piece, we’re seeing right now what happens to people’s energy bills from fossil fuel dependence. The past two years has been an absolute case study in that. Not only did people see price spikes in terms of fueling their cars at the gas station, but what they were paying for heating their homes and on their electricity bills, all of those things together and individually are because of our dependence on fossil fuels.

So having a stable pricing over decades through these contracts is going to significantly reduce that volatility for folks. And so I think there’s a clear benefit there.

On the environmental piece, similar to what Nick is saying, NRCM has been around for more than 60 years with our primary goal of conserving Maine’s environment.

And today, in 2024, we cannot meaningfully do that if we do not address climate change. We have an environmental imperative to make this switch to clean energy and do what we can here in Maine to make that happen, and we’re fortunate to have a world class offshore wind resource just off of our coasts.

And that’s an opportunity that we need to seize for the climate purposes, for environmental purposes, and for those economic benefits, not just for moving away from expensive fossil fuels, but also because it could create thousands of jobs. We’re looking at building an offshore wind port in Maine, and that offshore wind port could create jobs at the scale of the Bath Ironworks or the Portsmouth Naval Shipyards.

Building these floating offshore wind platforms is an extension of Maine’s maritime and shipbuilding heritage. It is a huge opportunity for us. In terms of the aesthetic piece, these projects are going to be sited out of sight of land. Once you get to 25, 30 miles offshore, they’re basically invisible.

And once you get beyond that, you cannot see them over the horizon line. For the turbines themselves and the projects that were called for in LD 1895, the commercial projects, those are not going to be visible from shore. So I don’t really think the aesthetic considerations are really going to be an issue at all.

[00:34:29] Eric Miller: Celina, as someone who works in the governor’s energy office and working hands on in policy, is it possible that offshore wind could potentially be a win in economic, environmental, and aesthetic elements?

[00:34:43] Celina Cunningham: Yes, I think that offshore wind is from an economic perspective to start, will really help in terms of providing great job opportunities for Maine people, and this includes not only from building out a port and the manufacturing and assembly of the different components of developing the foundations and the turbines, but also the broader supply chain.

And how small Maine companies can participate in not only the Gulf of Maine offshore wind industry, but the national and global industry that is projected to grow significantly. And so the economic opportunities are great.

We also, by diversifying and bringing local energy sources, we’re helping to stabilize and provide more sustainable energy prices, which will help the state economically as well.

And from an environmental perspective, climate change is the single greatest threat that is facing our environment and so this is an important step in that direction in terms of making sure that we have clean, renewable energy and protecting our natural resources and our ecosystem and the wildlife from reducing emissions in the state.

It is really important that people participate and engage in the process to make sure that their voices are heard and that we can make sure that we are developing these projects responsibly. This is, I think, a good thing for Maine and we need to make sure that we are bringing the people to the table to help ensure that we are protecting Maine’s important resources, existing jobs, and building an industry that’s sustainable for the long term.

In the development of the offshore wind roadmap, the protecting of the environment and in ecology has been an important part of this planning effort, and I’d say that there are three different areas that we are focusing on when it comes to research. The first is the state is working to advance a offshore wind research array in federal waters.

This would be a smaller scale project. That’s 10 to 12 turbines in federal waters to help us understand how to minimize impacts and maximize benefits from advancing offshore wind. So that is a proposed project that is under review and planning. The other thing that we have done is launch the Maine Offshore Wind Resource Consortium and provided state funding.

And this is a broad advisory group, including scientists and offshore wind developers, fishing industry, state agencies, and others to look at what are the questions that we need answered, and, is there available information from existing projects and research done to date, or do we need to invest in research and for specific areas that we have areas of interest?

And so just in the last several months, we’ve issued two requests for proposals for research, and we’re going to soon move forward with those projects and looking on at ways to make sure that we can maximize the investment in research dollars. And the third point is working with regional and international partners.

As Jack mentioned, there is a lot of work that’s been done in countries around the world, as well as in other states. And so we put a lot of emphasis on working to build the partnerships and connections with people who have experience. And how can we bring that to Maine? And what answers do we need to make sure that we are providing to people who are interested and want to understand more about offshore wind?

And so we’ll continue to advance research and feel that it’s an essential part of the offshore wind big picture strategy that we I think it’s important to make sure that we are advancing offshore wind responsibly in this state.

[00:38:09] Eric Miller: Excellent. Thank you all for contributing so much in this conversation today regarding offshore wind.

As we close out, I’d love to hear some final thoughts. Celina, would you like to discuss anything that we haven’t covered yet?

[00:38:22] Celina Cunningham: Yes. Offshore wind is an important part of our climate and clean energy overall strategy, and it’s critically important. That we’re working together to answer some of these fundamental questions that people have, but also making sure that we’re investing in local, clean, diverse mix of energy to help lower energy costs and also bring new economic development opportunities to the state that will greatly improve, I think, our economic outlook over the long term and doing so in a way that protects the environment.

And there’s a lot of work ahead and a lot of opportunities for people to be engaged should they want to spend more time working in offshore wind.

[00:39:01] Eric Miller: If there are any links that y’all would like us to add, whether it’s to the offshore roadmap that was mentioned, as well as other ways to get involved, we’d be happy to add that in the description.

So listeners feel free to go there. Jack, any final thoughts?

[00:39:17] Jack Shapiro: Just that I think it’s, as Celina mentioned, there’s a lot of, I think, education and understanding around offshore wind and, really what it is and what it isn’t and what role it is going to play for Maine. For many of us who’ve been working on this for some time from an environmental and climate perspective, we’re tremendously excited about the opportunity that it provides for Maine. The role that it’s going to play in meeting our climate goals while also providing the, sort of energy cost and stability and economic and jobs benefits. There are some conflicts to be resolved, different views of different aspects of offshore wind development.

But in wrestling with those over the past few years, I think that is really achievable. I think we can develop this really key resource and meet everybody’s needs as much as possible as we sort of move into this clean energy transition and hopefully beyond the imminent threat of climate change over the next several decades.

[00:40:13] Eric Miller: Nick, we’ll close out with you.

[00:40:17] Nick Lund: I think my wish is that people see this as a real opportunity, that people are excited about this opportunity for the reasons mentioned. I think people will look back on this moment we’re in now, and depending on how it goes, potentially be very proud of the way that we acted on climate change, that we didn’t take this laying down, that we stood up and did something about it.

I mean, it’s gonna be hard, but, Mainers aren’t afraid of doing hard things, I hope. And ultimately, it’ll be very beneficial for our environment and our state, and the state of the world. So that’s all, I, sometimes when people think about offshore wind, they see it in terms of a controversy or the challenges, but it really is an opportunity that a lot of other states and nations are jealous of to do something about climate change.

[00:40:59] Eric Miller: Thank you all so much for contributing your expertise and perspectives on this important strategy to take on one of our great challenges. So thank you all for taking time out to chat.

And thank you, listener, for joining us today. I’m Eric Miller, and I’ll see you next time on Maine Policy Matters.