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Demonstrations for wind power draw questions
By Sharon Kiley Mack
MACHIAS, Maine - About 35 people, including fishermen, biologists, conservationists and others, on Wednesday night attended the third in a series of meetings being held along Maine's coast to gather information about proposed offshore wind power development.
Following a legislative mandate, the state has identified seven areas that are possible demonstration sites for testing wind power equipment. All are within Maine's 3-mile offshore limit and include possible locations off Great Wass Island and Cutler.
Concerns expressed included: interference with fishing, including lobstering and scalloping; the effect on seabirds, migrating bats and sea mammals; and what effect Maine's harsh weather would have on the wind equipment.
A panel of experts listened to concerns and provided the answers they could. Representatives were from the state Environmental Protection, Marine Resources and Conservation departments as well as the University of Maine and the state geologist.
They explained that each site would contain no more than two demonstration turbines, which would be financed, maintained and eventually removed by private, commercial companies.
They also explained that earlier meetings had been held with fishermen across the state, including one on Aug. 11 in Machias.
"The fishermen were pleased that we came to them first," State Geologist Robert G. Marvinney said. He said the fishermen decided who should attend the scoping sessions, and all of the information provided about traditional fishing areas and possible areas of obstruction will be used to determine the final sites.
Dwight Whitney of Jonesboro asked for assurance that the equipment used for the test projects would endure off Maine's coast.
"You put those windmills out in the water, with the power of the water, you're going to be picking those things off the bottom," he said.
Jake Ward of University of Maine explained that wind turbines are in use and being studied off the coast of Norway, which has winter weather similar to Maine's.
Since a number of the turbine platforms will be floating and suspended with the use of cables, some questioned what effect the vibration through the cables caused by the turbine would have on marine life.
Ward said the impact is unclear and that is one of the many things UM will be studying on its research turbine. He said UM also is reviewing many studies European windmill operators have conducted regarding vibration effects.
Ward noted that the economic opportunity for Maine is about $1 billion a year for the next 20 years and includes thousands of jobs, both offshore and onshore.
As the forum ended, state Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Eastport, a member of the Legislature's Ocean Energy Task Force, said Maine needs to move forward with the project.
"The U.S. is not the world leaders in this," he said. "We're playing catch-up, and within the U.S., we're in a race. We are not the only state working on developing this technology. So are New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. This is a competition."
Raye said the Legislature's unanimous support of the demonstration project is a clear indication of the enormous potential for Maine.
"We are trying to make sure this is done thoughtfully," Raye said.
Seven sites along Maine's coast have been proposed as possible test locations for offshore wind farms. They include areas off Cutler and Jonesport in Washington County, south of Isle au Haut, and near Matinicus, Monhegan, Damariscove and Boon islands, according to a map released recently by the Maine Department of Con-servation. Damariscove is off Boothbay Harbor and Boon Island is off Cape Neddick in York County.
The Maine DOC and the State Planning Office are working together to identify as many as five possible demonstration sites in the Gulf of Maine. One site would be chosen as a wind energy research center operated by the University of Maine. State officials are required to identify a final list of sites by Dec. 15.
For information on the demonstration projects, visit www.maine.gov/doc/initiatives/oceanenergy/oceanenergy.shtml.
For those unable to attend a hearing in their area, comments may be sent by mid-November to the Maine Geological Survey, 22 State House Station, Augusta 04333-0022.
Photo Credit: State of Maine