Posted on February 27, 2023
When Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday released her “roadmap” for the state to develop offshore wind power, much of the focus, naturally, was on where the map headed.
The aim is to create floating platforms topped with wind turbines, which capture the Gulf of Maine’s consistent sea breezes and generate electricity, helping to meet Maine’s stepped-up climate goal: 100% renewably produced power by 2040.
The 111-page roadmap also shows what it will take to reach that destination. Created by an independent advisory committee under the Governor’s Energy Office, the map prescribes a complex set of strategies for developing the necessary infrastructure and workforce while creating new business opportunities, safeguarding Maine’s environment and fisheries, promoting social equity and achieving other goals.
The roadmap refers to what will be required if the U.S. is to meet its stated goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. Among the requirements: 2,100 wind turbines; 6,800 miles of cable; $8 billion in port upgrades to handle the platforms and turbines; and dozens of vessels to be used in constructing the platforms, laying the cable, servicing the turbines and transporting workers to and from the offshore platforms. And lots of workers – an estimated 12,000 to 49,000 year-round employees working to help design, build, maintain and operate wind turbines.
Mills’ plan argues that Maine is well-positioned to lead in the effort – and to capture the private and federal dollars that will help fund the infrastructure.
According to the roadmap, there are 80 companies in Maine already working on offshore wind power. Nationally, such companies are expected to generate $109 billion in private investment by the end of the decade.
The report argues that if Maine pushes ahead with its plan for a floating offshore turbine being developed at the University of Maine, the state will get the inside track on a long-term role as the industry develops. For instance, a study commissioned by the state in 2020 suggests Searsport could become the first port in the country with a facility for handling the offshore platforms and turbines, which must be largely built on land before they are assembled and towed out to sea.
Much of the cost of the build-out will likely be borne by the companies that operate the rigs and sell the electricity they generate, said Jack Shapiro, the climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which supports Mills’ plan.
According to Shapiro, generating electricity from the Gulf of Maine’s winds will pay off in fighting climate change, lowering electricity costs and spurring economic development. He said the gulf has consistent winds that make it a prime site for offshore turbines.
The roadmap notes investment in offshore wind power would help achieve the state’s goal of doubling the number of clean-energy jobs in Maine to 30,000 by 2030.
The workforce required for the massive undertaking is already similar in makeup to Maine’s, according to the report. Designing, building and maintaining the offshore sites will require people in jobs where Mainers are already working, such as engineers, electricians, metalworkers, surveyors and shipbuilders.
“This is Maine’s wheelhouse, our heritage,” Shapiro said.
However, the roadmap notes that Maine’s approach of creating turbines that float offshore is different from other wind power developments in shallower offshore waters, in which the turbine platforms are anchored to the seabed. According to Shapiro, the floating technology could position Maine well within the increasingly competitive global marketplace for wind power development.