From the Wheelhouse: Dustin Delano on Offshore Wind
From the Wheelhouse is an ongoing series where we invite fishermen to share some of their thoughts about the state of the fishing world in Maine and beyond.
Dustin Delano is a fourth-generation fisherman from Friendship, Maine. He serves as the 2nd Vice President of the Maine Lobstermen's Association and is a long-time advocate for fishermen.
In recent weeks, many fishermen along the Maine coast have discovered a new fear to add to their lengthy list of stressors— that they will be replaced by 700+ foot wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. Within an industry that is one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world, lobstermen are lying awake at night, wondering if their valued generational heritage is about to be replaced by large foreign corporations
Back in 2009 during the 124th legislature, LD 1465 (An Act to Facilitate Testing and Demonstration of Renewable Ocean Energy Technology) was passed into law. The newly passed legislation allowed Maine Aqua Ventus (MAV) and the University of Maine to begin planning for their small-scale offshore wind test site.
At the time, MAV reached out to the Monhegan Island Community with plans of deploying a single one-third-scale floating turbine just 2.5 miles south of Monhegan Island. Originally, the project was explained as a simple way to test the floating base on which the turbine would sit with 3 sets of chains anchoring it to the bottom of the ocean. Given the deep and challenging water off the state of Maine, floating turbines are the only option to capture the high wind speeds available off the coast.
Over time, the project grew, and MAV was selected for a grant from the Department of Energy. Suddenly, the one-third scale model was scrapped and replaced with two full size floating turbines which would stand more than 500’ above the ocean, and because of the size of the turbines and the amount of power they could potentially create, a large cable would need to be buried in the ocean floor and landed in a coastal community.
News of the changes in the project spread quickly. Members of the Monhegan Community began voicing their concerns, along with mainland communities who did not want the cable landed in their ports. A multi-million-dollar compensation package was offered to the Monhegan Community and then the opposition dwindled. The compensation, and the project in general, has created a major void and conflict between islanders that to this day still exists. The MAV project instigated a divide and caused conflict in a community with fewer than 40 year-round residents who live 12 miles off the coast.
As the project progressed, occasional public meetings occurred. Fishermen who work the rich waters surrounding Monhegan and members of the public all along the midcoast tried to stay involved. Each time there was a meeting, new information came to light. At one meeting, fishermen were told they could fish around the cable area and around the turbines, and at the next, they were told the opposite. (This continues to be a problem with any and all meetings pertaining to offshore renewable energy development in the GOM.)
MAV reached out to Bristol, Port Clyde, and Tenants Harbor as possible landing points for their cable. As a result, community members flocked to town meetings to express their disapproval and convince town leaders to keep the transmission line from coming ashore in their area. All three towns agreed to do everything they could to prevent the cable from landing in their port.
In 2015, MAV deployed the Deep Clidar buoy to study ecological (acoustic, bird, bat, and fish) and Metocean (wave, wind, and current) information. The buoy stood 3.8 meters out of the water and was anchored west of Monhegan in 250 feet of water. During a typical easterly storm, the buoy was destroyed and all that remained was the base it sat on which sat flush in the water. Even though a hazard to navigation, MAV never came to retrieve the base and it eventually broke loose and floated away. One fisherman reported seeing it a few days later roughly 12 miles from its anchored site. The handling of the Clidar buoy caused many to doubt the durability and maintainability of future project materials and confirmed concerns that problems such as this would be poorly handled.
In 2018, Governor LePage urged the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reopen their contract with MAV. Citing higher electricity costs to consumers, the move by the PUC combined with uncertain federal grants essentially put the Monhegan Wind Project on hold. However, in 2019, amid a new political environment, the PUC approved a wind power agreement with Maine Aqua Ventus. Coupled with the 2020 federal Energy and Water Appropriations Bill which secured over $10 million in federal funding for the MAV project, the green light came to fruition.
In recent months, MAV turned into New England Aqua Ventus. New England Aqua Ventus, LLC (NEAV) is a joint venture between Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation, and RWE Renewables. They will be collaborating with the University of Maine to begin industrializing the Gulf of Maine with large turbine arrays.
In December of 2020, Governor Mills introduced a 16 square mile, 12 turbine “research array” to be placed somewhere in the Gulf of Maine. While unconfirmed, when Diamond Energy is asked about whether or not they are involved in the Governor’s project, they respond very ambiguously which creates even more concern and distrust in the entire process.
Currently, Maine fishermen have created a coalition of groups in multiple sectors of fishing to work alongside the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) to make sure their concerns are heard. The Department of Marine Resources and the Governor’s Energy office have engaged in constructive communication with the Coalition and RODA, however, fishermen still believe their concerns are not being heard by Governor Mills because the project continues to grow and spiral unchecked and without regard to the incredibly high risk it is putting on the future of fishing businesses in Maine and the health of the ocean.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, in-person meetings have been prohibited throughout the engagement process. As a result, many fishermen who live in rural areas without access to good broadband, and fishermen lacking the knowledge to use online platforms, are being excluded from both conversations and access to information. They are completely in the dark about something that has the potential to destroy their future.
An issue of this nature should allow for ample time and opportunity for those who will be impacted to engage and under normal circumstances, developing the Gulf of Maine would be a topic that would fill town halls and meeting rooms with concerned community members and fishermen. But both the NEAV and 16-square mile research array are plowing forward with little regard for consistent concerns being expressed by coastal communities.
We have so many questions: Will fishermen be able to fish within the 16 square mile development? How will the development affect ocean mammals or migratory birds? What impacts will the cable route have on the ocean? Who is promised the jobs created by the project? Will the new jobs offset the economic loss each community will feel? Will one of Maine’s traditional and oldest industries be replaced by new ocean industrialization by a foreign company?
Fishermen and their communities do not want to be replaced by giant floating turbines.
Please consider supporting LD 101: An Act to Prohibit Offshore Wind Development in the Gulf of Maine.
You can read 10 Reasons Not to Develop the Gulf of Maine HERE.
You can read the Statement from Maine's Fishing Communities on Offshore Wind Development HERE.