Sears Island as Preferred Site for Port to Support Floating Offshore Wind

Source: www.gulfoilandgas.com 2/20/2024, Location: North America

Purpose-built port facility will establish Maine’s place in growing offshore wind industry, become hub for job creation and economic development and is welcomed by a strong and diverse coalition of environmental, labor, and economic organizations

Governor Janet Mills today announced that the State of Maine has selected a section of state-owned Sears Island that is reserved for port development as its preferred site for a port facility to support the floating offshore wind industry.

The selection of the site follows an extensive public stakeholder process led by the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Port Authority to consider the State’s primary port development options, including multiple potential sites in the Port of Searsport, the Port of Eastport, and the Port of Portland.

The State concluded that the Sears Island parcel is the most feasible port development site in terms of location, logistics, cost, and environmental impact based on input from port and offshore wind stakeholders, including the University of Maine, and on technical and engineering analyses.

Sears Island is a 941-acre island off the coast of Searsport. In 2009, Sears Island was, by agreement, divided into two parcels: approximately 601 acres, or two-thirds of the island, was placed in a permanent conservation easement held by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, while the remaining one-third, or approximately 330 acres, was reserved by MaineDOT for future development.

The site selected by the State today is expected to be about 100 acres in totality, which is about one-third of the State-owned parcel or a little more than one-tenth of the entire island.

The proposed port would be a purpose-built facility for floating offshore wind fabrication, staging, assembly, maintenance, and deployment. With deepwater access to the port development site, Maine has the potential to establish a premier location for the industry and help meet growing demand in the U.S. for offshore wind port infrastructure.

The Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap, released one year ago, determined a port facility is a priority for unlocking Maine’s opportunity in offshore wind to create good-paying jobs, spurring broad economic development, and generating abundant clean electricity to stabilize energy costs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

“This was not an easy decision, nor is it one that I made lightly. For more than two years, my Administration has evaluated Sears Island and Mack Point thoroughly and with an open mind, recognizing that each site has its own set of benefits and its own set of drawbacks. In carefully considering all of these, I believe that, on balance, Sears Island is the best choice for an offshore wind port because it is already owned by the state, designated for the purpose of port development, will cost less in the short-term and long-term, and is expected to result in less environmental harm,” said Governor Janet Mills.

“With that said, I recognize that the construction of a port is not insubstantial, and it will be a change to an area that is enjoyed by many people,” Governor Mills continued. “I take these changes seriously, and I recognize their impact. However, in weighing the costs and benefits of both locations, I cannot escape the conclusion that the parcel on Sears Island fundamentally makes the most sense and provides us with the best opportunity to responsibly advance offshore wind in Maine, an industry that will create good paying jobs for Maine people and deliver clean, renewable energy to stabilize and reduce energy prices for Maine people and businesses in the long run.”

“Maine has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help transform its economy and protect our environment by leveraging our North Atlantic winds, our maritime and manufacturing skills, and land reserved for port development to responsibly bring the multi-billion-dollar floating offshore wind industry to our doorstep,” said Bruce Van Note, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation. “The decision to pursue port development on Sears Island is in the best interest of our state’s economy and our climate. I hope Maine seizes this opportunity.”

“Establishing an offshore wind port on the coast of Maine is a critical step toward achieving the objectives outlined in the Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap,” said Dan Burgess, Director of the Governor’s Energy Office. “This offshore wind port can deliver tremendous investments, workforce opportunities, and innovation to our shores while supporting the generation of clean, affordable, reliable energy for Maine and the region.”

“Offshore wind and the supporting supply chain are a great growth opportunity for Maine’s economy,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “These types of projects create Maine-based solutions to global challenges, while helping us meet our renewable energy goals.”

“We have an incredible opportunity to construct a purpose-built, deepwater marine facility to support the installation of floating offshore wind projects in the Gulf of Maine,” said Matthew Burns, Executive Director of the Maine Port Authority. “The construction of this facility will give Maine the opportunity to be a leader in renewable energy and help make a significant impact on climate change. Our heritage as a seafaring state makes perfect sense for utilizing one of Maine’s best assets, its deepwater ports. There is still much work to be done, but I am very excited for the chance to help build a port facility unlike only a small handful of facilities throughout the world.”

“Searsport has a long and rich history of building vessels and sailing from Penobscot Bay to ports all around the world,” said James Gillway, Searsport Town Manager and cochair of the Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group. “We are very proud of this history, and we see the construction of a floating offshore wind port as a modern-day continuation of that vessel-building tradition. I am pleased that four years of hard work and public engagement have resulted in today’s selection of a wind port location. This decision keeps the ball rolling and moves us much closer to the State’s goals. I look forward to working with the governor’s office and MaineDOT to build a state-of-the-art port facility that is environmentally friendly and mitigating the impacts of this development on the local community and environment.”

“To meet and surpass our ambitious climate goals, we need to take advantage of the clean energy resources right here in Maine,” said Beth Ahearn, Director of Government Affairs of Maine Conservation Voters and cochair of the Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group. “Offshore wind will be essential to our transition away from expensive and dirty fossil fuels, and to realize this incredible opportunity, we need port infrastructure.

Today’s announcement of Sears Island as the preferred port location builds on the undeniable momentum of this new industry and is based on responsible, thorough, and comprehensive research. Maine Conservation Voters has and will continue to be an active participant and will do our part to ensure the new port has the least impact to – and most benefits for – the environment and local communities.”

“The rapid deployment of renewable energy is critical to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change and protecting Maine wildlife,” said Sarah Haggerty, Conservation Biologist and GIS Manager with Maine Audubon. “Floating offshore wind presents an incredible opportunity to generate a large amount of clean energy while successfully coexisting with Gulf wildlife.”

“The development of Maine’s port infrastructure is a cornerstone in realizing the economic dividends of an offshore wind industry and further expanding our international trade,” said Patrick Woodcock, President and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “There is an acute scarcity of unobstructed deepwater access across the eastern seaboard, and Maine has the opportunity to develop a world-class facility and finally realize the vision of the state’s three-port strategy. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce supports the leadership of the Mills Administration in identifying this site and looks forward to engaging in the permitting process to develop this infrastructure.”

“The Port of Searsport is one of Maine’s most highly valued assets as we establish our place in the growing global offshore wind industry,” said Wade Merritt, President of the Maine International Trade Center. “Ports are not just about transportation; they are important economic development engines in their own right. The Searsport project will attract, create, and sustain jobs and opportunity for all types of businesses, as well as their workers and their families, all along the coast and across the state.”

“The Maine AFL-CIO applauds Governor Mills' decision to select Sears Island for the construction, manufacturing, and deployment of offshore wind,” said Cynthia Phinney, President of the Maine AFL-CIO. “This site offers the amount of space required for the development of commercial wind projects, while protecting valuable fishing grounds upon which many local families depend. A coalition of union leaders and workers, environmental organizations, environmental justice communities, and youth climate leaders fought hard to ensure that this project will provide good jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits, as well as many training opportunities for a diverse workforce of the future. Once constructed, this port will facilitate work for decades in an area that has suffered the devastating impacts of shuttered industries. The increasing frequency of severe weather is wreaking havoc on working class communities in Maine. Unions here are proud to play their part in the fight against climate instability. Our members stand ready to build the infrastructure necessary to justly transitioning Maine into a clean energy future.”

“A port facility is a critical step to realize the economic and environmental benefits of a new floating offshore wind industry. The port will be used to produce floating turbines, designed here in Maine using innovative technology developed by University of Maine researchers, and towed out and moored beyond the horizon to harness clean energy for our state. Much like creating a shipyard, this port will usher in a new era of energy independence enabling us to more affordably heat our homes, stabilize our energy costs, and create good-paying Maine jobs,” said Habib Dagher, the founding director of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “It has been an honor for the university to have partnered with the State for over 15 years to develop this advanced technology, and to have reached this exciting moment under Governor Mills' leadership and with the support of the people of Maine, the Legislature, our federal delegation and the U.S. Department of Energy.”

“We appreciate and applaud Governor Mills' common-sense decision to site Maine’s floating offshore wind port facility on Sears Island,” said Captain David Gelinas of the Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association. “Decades ago, Maine taxpayers invested millions of dollars in transportation funds for port development on the island, including funding for navigation improvements that rendered sufficiently deep water to avoid the need for new dredging there. A Sears Island location for this new facility will minimize impacts from southerly winds and seas, while providing safe shelter for smaller vessels that will be necessary to service the port. The site offers the most direct approach in and out of the Searsport navigation channel and allows the existing docks at Mack Point to continue accommodating the myriad vessels necessary to serve Maine’s businesses and consumers. We look forward to participating in the next chapter of Searsport’s maritime heritage.”

“Offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine can deliver significant clean energy to Maine and New England,” said Eliza Donoghue, Executive Director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “An offshore wind port, located in Maine, will ensure that Maine enjoys the technology’s climate and economic benefits, including jobs that utilize the unique talents of Maine’s workforce.”

“Harnessing our abundant offshore wind and converting it to clean energy for Maine and the nation is the most important contribution we can make to helping save our planet,” said Dennis Damon, former State lawmaker and current member of the Maine Port Authority Board of Directors. “This is a huge undertaking with huge investments and huge rewards. The first step is selecting a port from which to start.”

“Sears Island provides the best cost-benefit outcomes for Maine residents with access to the existing Federal channel**,” said Kelly Flagg, Executive Director of Associated General Contractors of Maine**. “The dedicated 300 acres of land will accommodate the 100-acre parcel for port infrastructure and allow the island to continue offering benefits for recreation activities. The state-of-the-art port will move Maine to the top of the list for advances in the emerging blue economy.”

“Decades ago, Maine people voted to acquire Sears Island to enhance economic opportunities to Penobscot Bay communities – and well beyond – through environmentally friendly ocean transportation development,” said Maria Fuentes, Executive Director of the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA). “MBTA appreciates Governor Mills moving Maine one step closer to finally making good on the state’s earlier investments and commitments. Locating a marshalling port on Sears Island will mean high-paying jobs supporting the production of abundant renewable energy to fuel our entire state’s economy for years to come.”

In March 2020, Governor Mills directed MaineDOT to study the Port of Searsport to assess needs to support Maine’s offshore wind industry. An active seaport since the 1700s, the Port of Searsport is among the most versatile port sites on the East Coast.

The study (PDF), delivered in November 2021, evaluated various locations in the Port of Searsport for an offshore wind port, including Mack Point and an area of state-owned Sears Island. At that time, Governor Mills announced the State’s intention to explore port development to support floating offshore wind and directed MaineDOT to conduct a robust public process and engage with key stakeholders and community organizations.

In March 2022, MaineDOT announced the creation of a 19-member Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group to advise the State on port development. The Group, which included a broad spectrum of state and local stakeholders, held six public meetings in 2022 and 2023 and toured existing port facilities in Searsport and Eastport to inform its work.

The following factors support State’s selection of the Sears Island site:
• The State of Maine owns the parcel of land on Sears Island;
• The parcel of land on Sears Island has been reserved since 2009 for development;
• As a large, level area with deepwater access, the Sears Island site has beneficial physical and logistical characteristics for building a port facility at the scale required to support floating offshore wind port operations;
• Unlike adjacent Mack Point, the Sears Island site is not expected to require dredging, a key environmental and financial consideration for a port project;
• The Sears Island site would avoid impacts on existing commercial or industrial activities in the Port of Searsport;
• Because the parcel of land on Sears Island is owned by the State, the upfront and ongoing costs for a port facility are estimated to be substantially less than on Mack Point, which is privately owned and would require monthly lease fees.

The estimated port construction cost on the Sears Island site is approximately $500 million. The State is seeking funding opportunities for the port, such as from Federal sources expanded under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which recently awarded funds to support a floating offshore wind port in California.

The port proposal is subject to extensive and independent State and Federal permitting processes, including assessments of environmental impacts and alternative sites. MaineDOT, on behalf of the State, intends to apply for permits later this year, which will also include additional opportunities for stakeholder and public input on the project.

Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap
The selection of a port site reflects a priority of the Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap, a stakeholder-driven comprehensive plan that offers detailed strategies for Maine to realize economic, energy, and climate benefits from offshore wind, in conjunction with communities, fisheries, and wildlife of the Gulf of Maine.

Released one year ago, the Roadmap has guided action toward responsible offshore wind in Maine, through landmark legislation, offshore wind research, workforce and supply chain development, regional transmission and grid planning, and advocacy for Maine’s interests in Federal actions on commercial wind leasing in the Gulf of Maine.

In July 2023, Governor Mills signed LD 1895, legislation to advance offshore wind in Maine by procuring up to 3,000 MW of offshore wind energy, creating opportunity for all Maine workers and businesses in the emerging offshore wind industry, and protecting critical lobstering areas from development.

The State has proposed to lease a site in Federal waters of the Gulf of Maine for a Floating Offshore Wind Research Array. An application for that lease site remains pending before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Federal agency charged with leasing ocean areas for offshore wind development.

As the first project of its kind in the United States, the research array will foster cutting-edge research into the cost-effective operation of floating offshore wind and how it interacts with the marine environment, wildlife, the fishing industry, shipping and navigation routes, and more.

The array is proposed to include 10–12 turbines on semi-submersible floating concrete platforms known as VolturnUS, designed by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center. The final size and location of the research site will be determined by BOEM during its leasing review process.

In January 2023, BOEM released its draft area for potential commercial offshore wind leasing in the Gulf of Maine. In November, Governor Mills joined Maine’s Congressional Delegation to request Lobster Management Area 1, a highly productive fishing ground, be excluded from offshore wind siting maps.

As this process unfolds, Governor Mills continues to press the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees BOEM, to involve Maine fishermen in Federal plans for leasing in the Gulf of Maine for commercial offshore wind.

To preserve State waters for recreation and fishing and cement into law Maine’s priority of locating offshore wind projects in Federal waters in the Gulf of Maine, Governor Mills in 2021 signed LD 1619, which prohibits new offshore wind projects in State waters.

Other offshore wind initiatives include the Maine Offshore Wind Research Consortium, an assembly of fisheries, wildlife, and marine science and industry experts advising the State’s offshore wind research; and advocating for Maine’s interests in Federal plans for commercial offshore wind leasing through the Gulf of Maine Task Force.

View visuals of Sears Island (PDF) and the Port of Searsport (PDF), including the proposed area for the port to support floating offshore wind.


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