Maine to go all in on offshore wind

State lawmakers are expected to pass legislation that boosts floating offshore wind projects in the Gulf of Maine as the fledgling U.S. industry hits a growth spurt.
By Maria Gallucci

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White wind turbine blades sit atop a yellow floating platform in the calm bay
A 20-kilowatt floating wind turbine prototype is shown in 2013 in the Gulf of Maine. (UMaine)

Update: On July 27, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed into law a historic” bill (LD 1895) to advance offshore wind power in the state.

Maine is on the cusp of adopting legislation to jump-start the state’s offshore wind industry and boost floating” projects in particular.

On Tuesday, the state’s legislature is expected to pass a bill that calls for getting 3 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine by 2040. The measure also supports building port infrastructure and local supply chains to service projects in the gulf’s deep, frigid waters.

Gov. Janet Mills (D) is expected to sign the legislation when it reaches her desk. Late last month, the governor vetoed an earlier version over concerns about its labor provisions. But following weeks of intense negotiations, Mills and state labor leaders reached an agreement that includes new language around job-quality standards.

Offshore wind is seen as crucial to helping Maine meet its target of achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. (About 72 percent of the state’s electricity generation came from hydropower and renewable energy projects in 2021.)

To combat climate change and invest in Maine’s energy independence, our state has set ambitious but necessary goals for renewable energy. It’s clear that this effort will involve offshore wind energy projects,” state Senator Mark Lawrence (D), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

If we know this is coming, we need to have guardrails in place to make sure this is done right and truly benefits Mainers,” he added.

The amended bill requires that all work on offshore wind-related projects happen at collectively bargained rates, and it prioritizes jobs for residents of Maine and the region. It also includes incentives to locate offshore wind projects outside of the state’s key fishing and lobstering grounds, which help generate more than $1.5 billion for the state’s economy. Maine Lobstering Union Local 207 and the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council have both endorsed the legislation.

A map of the Gulf of Maine
The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. (NOAA)

The 3 gigawatts of offshore wind power could provide about half of Maine’s electricity demand in 2040, Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told Canary Media. Maine’s electricity needs are expected to grow in the coming decades as more residents replace heating-oil systems with electric heat pumps, and as battery-powered vehicles proliferate.

Nearly all of Maine’s offshore wind power is expected to involve floating platforms and other buoyant technologies, he noted. The Gulf of Maine — which is also surrounded by Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — is generally too deep to deploy the fixed-bottom foundations that most of the world’s offshore wind turbines use today.

Maine’s offshore wind push is getting underway as the fledgling U.S. industry experiences a significant, if complicated, growth spurt following years of regulatory delays, well-funded opposition efforts and financial setbacks.

To date, only seven total wind turbines are spinning in America’s waters, representing 42 megawatts (0.042 GW) of capacity. That’s less than 0.1 percent of the 64.3 GW of offshore wind installed worldwide. But about a dozen U.S. states now have projects in the pipeline — enough to help meet the Biden administration’s target of installing 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

On the East Coast, two commercial-scale wind projects are already under construction. South Fork Wind, a 12-turbine facility near Long Island, New York, achieved its steel in the water” milestone last month and is slated to start operations by the end of this year. The 62-turbine Vineyard Wind 1 project planned near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts is expected to begin full commercial operations in 2024.

The U.S. Department of Interior recently approved a third commercial-scale project. Ocean Wind 1 will be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm when it becomes operational by late 2024 or early 2025. The 98-turbine facility from Danish energy giant Ørsted is expected to generate 1.1 GW of electricity, or enough to power nearly 500,000 homes.

And just last week, President Biden said the U.S. will sell offshore wind leases in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time, opening the door for clean-energy projects to exist alongside the region’s abundant offshore oil and gas rigs. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has called for deploying 5 GW of offshore wind by 2035.

We’re going to the Gulf,” Biden said in a July 20 speech in Philadelphia, Reuters reported. You think I’m kidding? You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Yet even as America’s fledgling offshore-wind sector gains momentum, companies are experiencing fresh challenges that have led to projects being postponed or canceled in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and in Northern Europe. Higher interest rates, persistent inflation and the rising prices of steel and wind turbine components have all increased the costs of developing offshore wind projects, as the news site Heatmap recently explained.

Floating projects like the ones intended for the Gulf of Maine face another set of hurdles. Namely, they’re still more expensive and complicated to build than their fixed-bottom counterparts. The technology for bobbing turbines is relatively new, and globally, the supply chain and port facilities needed to assemble the buoys, cables and multi-legged platforms are still being created.

Several boats sail in the ocean next to a floating offshore wind platform
(Zhang Jingang/Feature China/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Uncertainties about the novel turbines recently came into play in California during a federal auction of offshore wind leases. Like Maine, the state plans to rely primarily on floating turbines to meet its ambitious offshore wind goals since the seabed off the U.S. West Coast is particularly deep. But a December lease sale drew lower bid prices than similar sales held on the East Coast, and only seven of the 43 prequalified bidders participated.

Still, although floating turbines represent only 0.3 percent of today’s global offshore wind capacity, the technology is expected to play a pivotal role in future renewable energy growth. About 80 percent of the world’s offshore wind resource potential is in areas with a water depth of more than 60 meters (nearly 200 feet), meaning it’s ill suited for fixed-bottom foundations, according to the Global Wind Energy Council’s 2023 report.

Shapiro said that Maine’s offshore wind legislation could help put the state at the forefront of the coming floating offshore wind boom. He noted that the University of Maine has been developing a cutting-edge floating concrete hull for more than a decade. In 2013, researchers launched a small grid-connected floating turbine in the Gulf of Maine.

Floating offshore wind is going to be a critical part for all of us meeting our climate and energy goals, not just in the U.S. but around the world,” Shapiro said. We’re really excited about the potential for Maine to be a leader for the entire East Coast.”

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.