Mills files proposed moratorium on wind power in heavily fished waters off Maine's coast

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Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is seeking a temporary ban on the development of offshore wind in waters managed by the state.

On Wednesday, Mills introduced legislation – sponsored by Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee – that would impose a 10-year moratorium on new wind power projects in state waters.

In a statement, Mills said the state is “uniquely prepared to grow a strong offshore wind industry, create good-paying trades and technology jobs around the state, and reduce Maine’s crippling dependence on harmful fossil fuels” but not at the expense of the state's storied fishing industry.

“We will focus these efforts in federal waters farther off our coast, as we responsibly pursue a small research array that can help us establish the best way for Maine to embrace the vast economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind,” she said.

Lawrence said the proposal “strikes the right balance to protect Maine's fisheries and coastal waters, while continuing to advance the great energy and economic potential for offshore wind energy in federal waters of the Gulf of Maine.”

The move is aimed at alleviating the concerns of commercial fishermen as Maine pursues the nation’s first offshore wind research array in federal waters.

Nearly 75% of Maine’s commercial lobster harvesting occurs in state waters.

The project has met with pushback from commercial fishermen who say the move would shut down fishing grounds and hurt the storied industry.

If approved by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the project would cover an area of roughly 16 miles on leased offshore federal waters.

Maine has set an ambitious goal of reaching 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050, and the Mills administration said wind power will play a large role.

“With enough potential energy to power all of Maine by 2050, offshore wind is a critical part of Maine’s clean energy future for reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels,” said Dan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Energy Office.

The efforts could get support from President Joe Biden's $2.25 trillion American Jobs Act, which is pending in Congress, would provide incentives for building thousands of offshore wind turbines off America's shores. Meanwhile, a $900 billion pandemic relief bill approved in December includes a new 30% tax credit for offshore wind projects.

But the wind power plans are facing pushback from commercial fishing groups, which say the move would shut down fishing grounds and hurt the storied industry.

Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, said recently his group supports renewable energy solutions to address climate change, but “it shouldn't be at the expense of the iconic fishermen, seafood providers, and fishing communities who keep us fed and support the local economy.”

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