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Offshore wind research lease takes another step forward to federal approval

If Maine receives the federal lease, it will conduct a range of surveys on the effects of the floating offshore wind research array on the ocean environment.

Posted on August 16, 2023

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management – the federal agency tasked with leasing federal waters for offshore wind projects – released on July 21 a draft environmental assessment on the potential effects of issuing a federal lease for a floating offshore wind energy research array in federal waters off Monhegan Island.

The assessment concludes that with mitigation granting the lease would have negligible or minor effects on resources in and around the lease area. A final environmental assessment will be released this fall.

The research lease process is a separate process from commercial offshore wind energy leases BOEM is considering in the Gulf of Maine but should provide information for the much larger commercial floating wind energy farms in addition to supplying electricity to residential homes.

The assessment focuses on site characteristics using biological, geological, geotechnical and archaeological surveys and site assessment activities, specifically meteorological oceanographic buoy deployment.

It does not include the installation, operation and decommissioning of the array, the turbines, or the cables that transmit energy to land and does not authorize offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine.

“The purpose of an environmental assessment is to determine whether an environmental impact statement is necessary,” Mary Boatman, BOEM Environmental Studies Chief for the Office of Renewable Energy, said at a virtual public meeting Aug. 1. “If the impacts are determined to not be significant, then additional analysis is not necessary.”

If the lease is granted, Maine would then prepare and submit to BOEM a site activities plan and a research activities plan. These would contribute to BOEM’s environmental analysis of the total project and include assessments on cables, floating platforms and turbines.

Celina Cunningham, deputy director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said the state would use fishing vessels, digital and aerial surveys, bottom trawls, lobster trawls, gillnet surveys, onshore radar, sidescan sonar, multibeam echo sounders and sediment core samples to gather data for its surveys. A FLIDAR buoy would provide ocean information.

But public comments at the Aug. 1 meeting and a second one Aug. 3 questioned the validity of the data BOEM used for the draft assessment.

“The only biomass assessment we’ve really done … is a 42-nautical-mile survey in the Gulf of Maine,” said Jerry Leeman, CEO of the New England Fishermen Stewardship Association. “What are we using to fill in the data gaps from such little amount of data that we’ve accumulated so far?”

And Virginia Olsen, Maine Lobstering Union executive liaison and political director, asked why BOEM prepared an environmental assessment and not a more comprehensive environmental impact statement.

“I would think defining the proposed activities and the effect and impact on the environment, not just an assessment of the environment [is called for],” she said.

Olsen also asked at what point BOEM calculates the accumulated effects of commercial wind leases in the Gulf of Maine.

“When we receive that research activities plan [from Maine], we will probably do an environmental impact statement and we will address the cumulative impacts of other offshore wind facilities as well as that which is proposed,” Boatman responded.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management summary of the expected environmental effects of granting Maine a lease for a proposed offshore wind energy research array in the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Maine. Before the project itself is approved, BOEM would prepare a plan-specific environmental analysis.

Mike Okoniewski logged in from the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group, composed of fishermen and processors, “because a lot of the same things are going to happen on the West Coast,” he said. He asked for economic data, specifically the billions of dollars the commercial fishing industry generates in sales, income and value added.

He also questioned the gaps in species data. “If you’re just studying in a static mode the fish occupying that area now, you’re not looking at the lifecycle of those fish or invertebrates,” he said.

The 163-page draft environmental assessment covers water quality, benthic (animal and plant) resources, commercial and recreational fishing, essential fish sand invertebrate habitats, navigation and vessel traffic, military use, marine mammals, sea turtles, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, recreation and tourism and cultural, historical and archaeological resources.

Read the assessment at Public comments will be accepted through Aug. 21 and may be submitted online through – search for Docket No. BOEM-2023-0042 – or mailed to Gulf of Maine Research Lease Draft EA, Program Chief, Office of Renewable Energy Programs, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 45600 Woodland Road, Sterling, VA 20166.


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