Maine Governor Places Wind Energy Moratorium, Plans Introducing New Permitting Bill
On 24 January, Maine Governor Paul LePage issued an executive order setting up the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission and placing a moratorium on new permits to wind energy projects until the newly-established commission releases its report after studying the economic impact wind turbines have on tourism.
“Tourism, especially returning visitors, is a major driver for the Maine economy. We cannot afford to damage our natural assets in ways that would deter visitors from returning to Maine,” LePage said. In 2016, Maine attracted more than 35 million visitors who spent nearly USD 6 billion, and this was exceeded in 2017, according to the press release on the governor’s website.
The executive order focuses on Western Maine, the state’s coast and coastal islands, and bird migratory pathways, saying these areas attract significant tourism to the state and any decision regarding siting wind turbines in these areas will have long-term consequences to the tourism industry, with the benefit from wind turbines being uncertain.
Governor LePage also announced he intends to introduce legislation to amend the laws governing expedited permitting for wind energy development.
“Current law is too ambitious and overly permissive in areas of the state where we must protect our scenic vistas. While I believe that some expedited permitting for wind is appropriate, my bill will implement constraints on where expedited development can occur to protect our tourism-based economy,” the governor said.
When it comes to offshore wind projects, there are no leased sites off Maine. Statoil submitted an unsolicited lease request in 2011, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) determining no competitive interest a year later and deciding to proceed with a noncompetitive lease process. However, Statoil withdrew its lease request later on.
Nevertheless, there is offshore wind activity in the state with the University of Maine-led Maine Aqua Ventus project. The 12MW floating offshore wind pilot project, also known as New England Aqua Ventus I, is planned off of Monhegan Island. It is expected to demonstrate the VolturnUS system at full-scale as a viable and economical alternative for offshore wind developments in water depths greater than 50 meters. The project recently encountered challenges related to its power purchase contract, as the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decided to delay its final decision on the contract until it determines the price impact the project would have today, considering that the initial terms were set in a Term Sheet from 2014.
Maine governor signed support to new offshore drilling plan
As Offshore WIND reported earlier this month, most of the officials of the U.S. coastal states affected by national offshore oil & gas plans had already provided their responses to the new 2019-2024 plan to make more than 90% of OCS available for oil and gas exploration and production.
Maine’s governor responded within the OCS Governors Coalition (Maine, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Alaska), which sent in a joint letter stating that it supports all new oil and gas leasing options laid out in the Draft Proposed Program (DPP).
The Coalition’s comment letter, signed by Governors Paul LePage (Maine), Kay Ivey (Alabama), Phil Bryant (Mississippi), Greg Abbott (Texas), and Bill Walker (Alaska), states that they believe it is prudent to include all leasing options in the DPP, understanding that circumstances affecting leasing decisions could change during the course of the National OCS Program’s development and implementation. They propose that access to offshore energy resources will allow coastal states and communities to realize great economic opportunities and that the successful development of the GOM and the initial exploration of Alaska’s OCS demonstrate how responsible offshore energy development can generate many good paying jobs, spur activity in a host of associated industries, and generate billions of dollars in tax revenue.” – BOEM/ DPP.
In their response, the governors of the OCS Governors Coalition welcomed the decision to re-evaluate permits to conduct seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic, stating that the coalition believes that states must have an up-to-date assessment of the potential resource base off their coasts to inform decision-making regarding offshore development.
Of the 23 coastal states affected, BOEM received responses from governors and/or state agencies of 20 states, with New Hampshire, Rhode Island and South Carolina’s inputs provided only by local governments and other organisations.
Twelve of the 20 states that delivered official responses requested exclusion, opposing to new oil & gas leasing. These include: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. Seven states requested inclusion: Maine, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alaska. Florida has been registered by BOEM as not stating its specific position.
Offshore WIND Staff