A 12-year-old state law designed to encourage ocean energy development and reduce Maine’s dependence on fossil fuels set the stage for the current debate over offshore wind power sites.

Part of a 2009 law called the Ocean Energy Act established wind test areas in state waters, which extend 3 miles from the mainland. Those test areas were selected based on criteria that included optimum wind speeds and water depths, as well as attempts to minimize conflicts with existing marine uses such as fishing and seabird nesting.

State agencies conducted 25 meetings with local officials, commercial fishermen and other interested parties. Five public meeting also were held, from Wells to Machias.

After review, three sites were chosen. One near Boon Island, in York County; one near Damariscove Island, off Boothbay Harbor; and one near Monhegan Island.

The Monhegan site was later designated as the Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Center for the University of Maine. That is where the New England Aqua Ventus project – a single test turbine on a floating concrete platform – will be located.

Planners acknowledged in 2009 that any potential site would have some undesirable impacts. In a document announcing the locations, the Bureau of Parks and Lands said the review process revealed that nearly all of Maine’s coastal waters are used for commercial fishing at various times of the year.

Safety and exclusion zones around the test sites would temporarily displace some activities, the bureau conceded. But it added that fishermen helped identify areas to minimize impacts and that the selected test sites “will not unreasonably interfere with existing marine uses and public trust rights.”

The bureau said comments during the public outreach process found widespread support for offshore wind research and development. But it added a caveat that reflects Maine’s current policy of steering commercial wind projects to federal waters:

“There was also concern that testing may lead to future commercial scale development in state waters that may have more significant impacts on commercial fishing, tourism and ‘quality of place’ issues,” it said. “The general consensus seems to support directing future commercial development farther offshore in order to take advantage of improved wind resources and minimize impacts to existing marine and coastal uses on near state waters.”

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