The U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) convened the Maine Renewable Energy Task Force yesterday in South Portland, Maine to consider a lease application submitted by Statoil North America, Inc. for an offshore wind power project on a site approximately 12 miles offshore, south of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The Statoil application is posted at http://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program/State-Activities/Maine.aspx. Statoil’s application covers a twenty-two square mile area, with the expectation that the final lease request may be reduced to less than four square miles following completion of environmental and wind resource assessments. On November 30, BOEM determinedthat the application is complete. The Task Force, comprised of federal, state, local and tribal representatives, was originally convened in 2010 as part of a federal-state effort to coordinate to make offshore marine renewable energy leasing process more efficient.
Statoil submitted the lease application in connection with its response to the Maine Public Utilities Commission's September 1, 2010 Request for Proposals for Long-term Contracts for Deep-Water Offshore Wind Energy Pilot Projects. Statoil proposes to construct a 12 MW project with three turbines, and to sell the electricity generated under a long term power purchase agreements under the framework of the Maine PUC pilot project program. Statoil plans to begin construction in 2016. If the pilot project is successful, Statoil would build upon the project to construct a much larger wind power project, likely in the same general vicinity.
At the December 8 meeting, the Task Force first convened in an intergovernmental session, comprised of a series of presentations on the OCS leasing process for offshore wind sites and role of various federal agencies, followed by a general public Q&A session with BOEM representatives. BOEM’s Project Coordinator for the Statoil application, Aditi Mirani, served as the meeting coordinator, and Ned Farquhar, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management in DOI, Brian Hooker, Marine Biologist, and Tim Redding, Program Analyst at BOEM, also participated. Other Task Force presentations included a presentation by George Detwiler of the US Coast Guard indicating that the Coast Guard’s preliminary assessment is that the lease would not pose impermissible navigational hazards (subject to further information and analysis). Department of Defense personnel made a presentation indicating that DOD’s preliminary assessment that the proposed project would not interfere with DOD uses of the lease areas. NOAA’s Susan Tuxbury, Fishery biologist, and USFW’s Linda Welch, also presented on the NOAA and USFW roles and data requirements in the BOEM leasing process. Both NOAA and USFW emphasized the very limited data available concerning wildlife at the proposed site, and Linda Welch emphasized the strong potential for interaction between OSW projects and birds and bats. Ms. Welch emphasized that recently collected data confirm that birds and bats are year-round users of the Gulf of Maine, and are present more than twenty miles offshore. USFW emphasized that at least two years of baseline data would be required, followed by at least three years post-construction monitoring.
During the public session, representatives of several fishing organizations criticized the proposed lease site as posing an unacceptable conflict with existing fisheries in the area. Representatives of the Maine Lobsterman’s Association, the Maine Fisherman’s Association, and the American Blue Fin Tuna Association appeared to express concern, and characterized the proposed lease location as a fishing “hot spot” for groundfish, herring, shrimp and lobster fishing.
At the conclusion of the Task Force meeting, BOEM representatives indicated that BOEM’s next steps would be to complete a review of the technical and financial qualifications of Statoil, and then to publish a Request for Competitive Interest, in order to determine whether there are other competitor companies interested in leasing these lease blocs. BOEM will then determine whether to process the Statoil lease as a competitive or non-competitive lease application. BOEM promised to keep TASK Force Members informed, invited Task Force members to seek out information from stakeholders in Maine and to provide that information to BOEM, and also promised to reconvene the Task Force following future substantive filings on the project and environmental impacts by Statoil.