A 100-acre site on Sears Island, right, was one of several locations Maine officials considered as the hub to support the offshore industry in the future. Mack Point, at upper left, was another. The selection is subject to state and federal permitting. Press Herald photo by David A. Rodgers

AUGUSTA — The state has selected Sears Island in Penobscot Bay as its preferred site for the new hub for Maine’s floating offshore wind power industry, where turbines and other components will be assembled and shipped to the Gulf of Maine, Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday.

The 100-acre site in Searsport was one of several considered in a more than two-year review by Maine officials. The location is on a one-third portion of Sears Island that the state Department of Transportation has reserved for development. The other two-thirds are in a permanent conservation easement held by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Mills touted the need to generate wind power to fight climate change while boosting skilled manufacturing jobs in a region that a local official said has not recovered from the 2014 shutdown of the Bucksport paper mill.

“This was not an easy decision nor is it one that I made lightly,” the governor said at her Capitol office before a group of nearly two dozen supporters that included environmentalists, state legislators, business advocates and others.

The selection is subject to state and federal permitting.

Sears Island is the best choice for an offshore wind port because the site is owned by the state, saving money that would otherwise be required to lease another location, and is designated for port development, the governor said.


Unlike nearby Mack Point, another location in Searsport that was being considered, the Sears Island site is not expected to be dredged, an important environmental and financial point, the Mills administration said.

Searsport Town Manager James Gillway said Mills’ decision “will be unpopular with some,” but a wind port will help reverse an economic decline that dates to December 2014 with the closing of the Bucksport paper mill and the elimination of more than 500 jobs.

“We’ve not recovered from this loss,” he said. “Offshore floating wind will change this.”

Friends of Sears Island, an organization that manages the conserved part of the island, supports wind energy but believes a port should be built on Mack Point, across Long Cove. The group warns that if a wind port is built on Sears Island, land will be cleared, graded and compacted. And the removal of earth will permanently affect marine habitat, the group says.

“It should be on Mack Point unless we see clear and convincing evidence otherwise,” said Rolf Olsen, vice president of the board of Friends of Sears Island.

That could be determined in the permitting process by state and federal officials that Mills said could take about a year.


Sean Mahoney, vice president and senior counsel of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group that supports the state’s decision to advance the project, said permitting will determine if Sears Island is the best alternative. Federal and state officials will compare and contrast the state’s choice of Sears Island with other sites, most likely Mack Point, he said.

“There’s still a distance between the cup and the lip,” he said.

Business and organized labor back Mills’ decision. Patrick Woodcock, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said building a wind port will expand international trade for Maine businesses and address an “acute scarcity of unobstructed deep water access” along the eastern seaboard.

Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, said the port, once it’s built, will provide work for decades in an area that “has suffered the devastating impacts of shuttered industries.”

If all goes according to plan, construction could end by 2029. It is expected to cost $500 million.

Dan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said Maine’s foray into wind energy could be well-timed, avoiding problems that have plagued projects elsewhere off the U.S. coast. Supply chain bottlenecks, enormous demand from China for wind turbine components, high interest rates that drive up construction costs and other problems have forced developers to balk at moving forward, at least initially.


The state will begin procuring power next year, giving officials time to “learn from what happened,” Burgess said.

Mills directed her administration in November 2021 to assess the infrastructure at Maine’s commercial seaports and any “added investment” needed to support offshore wind at the ports of Searsport, Portland, Eastport and other sites.

In March 2020, Mills visited the pier at Mack Point Terminal in Searsport and announced that her administration would study the site for ways to support offshore wind. She toured the port of Searsport, an “active seaport since the 1700s” and Maine’s second largest seaport with a facility serving coastal and inland areas of Maine, the governor said at the time.

A study evaluated physical and technical characteristics of various locations in the port of Searsport and identified several sites for consideration as part of a hub for offshore wind, including Mack Point Terminal and the area of state-owned Sears Island reserved for development, Mills said in 2020. Her administration informed the town of Searsport about its intent to conduct more environmental and geotechnical surveys.

A majority of the governor’s 19-member Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group recommended Sears Island, either on its own or with Mack Point. Three members of the group said in September that the Sears Island site is the least expensive to develop. Costs to lease and clean up a potential site at Mack Point are estimated at $300 million to $500 million. In addition, they said any development at Mack Point would involve dredging more than 500,000 cubic yards from Searsport Harbor that would be disposed of at sea.

The advisory group included state and local stakeholders, and scheduled six public meetings last year and in 2022, Mills said. Members of the group toured port facilities in Searsport and Eastport.

The Biden administration announced in March a federal target of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. The Department of Interior announced plans last month to advance commercial-scale offshore wind, including in the Gulf of Maine, in coming years.

In October, the Biden administration said it identified a 3.5 million-acre wind energy site in the Gulf of Maine that excludes lobster fishing grounds and right whale areas, drawing praise from environmentalists, the lobster industry and organized labor.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft wind energy area covers offshore Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, ranging from about 23 to 120 miles off the coast. Wind power will not likely be generated in the area until at least the next decade.

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