President Biden charts path for first floating wind turbines off Maine Coast

The Biden administration is taking steps to advance offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine, setting the stage for potentially the first floating turbines deployed in US waters.

With formal notices being issued Thursday, the Interior Department is soliciting public feedback on selling wind development rights across some 13.7 million acres (5.5 million hectares) of Atlantic waters along the Maine coast. At the same time, the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is seeking public input on Maine’s bid for a research lease to test how floating turbines affect the state’s thriving fishing industry.

“President Biden has set ambitious goals to address the climate crisis, and in response the Interior Department is taking historic steps to develop a robust and sustainable clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a news release.

The Biden administration has laid out ambitions to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, with plans to sell leases along most every US coast. Maine has also charted aggressive clean energy commitments, with a requirement that 80 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2030.

Strong and consistent gusts in the Gulf of Maine — which surge along with energy demand in winter — present an unrivaled opportunity to provide that power.

But offshore wind farms pose potential conflicts with fishermen and lobstermen who harvest their catch from the same sea. Concerns also have been raised about turbines interfering with marine radar systems and fishing gear becoming entangled with offshore wind components.

Lawmakers from the region have pressed the Interior Department to investigate how offshore wind development could affect the region’s ecosystem and industries. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has so far doled out $80 million toward research in the Gulf of Maine to guide that analysis.

There’s a further logistical challenge off the Maine coast, where the ocean floor plunges fast and deep, necessitating the use of floating turbines instead of conventional stationary models that are anchored into the seabed. Floating turbines, which are more costly, have been installed elsewhere around the world, including off the coast of Scotland.

Maine has asked for the right to deploy a small array of up to 12 floating offshore wind turbines on some 9,700 acres in the Gulf of Maine. The project, capable of generating as much as 144 megawatts of power, would be located more than 20 nautical miles off the coast.

The Interior Department’s filings mark an early but essential step toward selling wind leases in the Gulf of Maine. Separately, the agency is taking steps toward wind auctions in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of California.

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