Maine Looks To Secure 3 GW of Offshore Wind With New Procurement Plan

August 16, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

Maine has passed new legislation to advance its offshore wind development, aiming to procure 3 gigawatts by 2040.

Maine is looking to unlock its offshore wind potential, passing legislation to procure up to 3 gigawatts (GW) by 2040. The plan also tasks the Maine Department of Transportation with selecting a location to build a new port facility by 2024. 


The VolturnUS floating offshore wind system

The VolturnUS floating offshore wind system. Image used courtesy of the University of Maine


Much of Maine’s energy supply comes from land-based wind farms. Its offshore wind expansion eyes federal waters in the Gulf of Maine, home to the highest and most consistent wind speeds on the East Coast.

The state has proposed to lease a federal area off of the Gulf of Maine for a floating offshore wind research array featuring a dozen turbines atop a semi-submersible concrete platform. The lease application is pending with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which oversees national offshore wind development. The project will use a floating platform design from the University of Maine to study how such structures interact with marine life, wildlife, the fishing sector, and shipping and navigation routes. 


Maine’s Renewable Energy Expansion

Governor Janet Mills signed LD 1895 into law in late July. The legislation authorizes the Governor’s Energy Office to set an offshore wind energy procurement schedule with the Maine Public Utilities Commission to solicit contracts for 1 GW of nameplate capacity by 2030 and 2.8 GW by 2035—enough to cover more than half of the state’s electricity demand. 

The legislation supports Maine’s targets to use 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% in 2040 while cutting emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. These plans are crucial as Maine’s regional grid depends on natural gas for electricity generation, making it vulnerable to global events—most recently, fossil fuel import costs soared in early 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Nearly 60% of Maine’s homes rely on fuel oil as a primary heating source—more than any other state. Still, Maine’s clean energy development has grown in recent years, mainly via hydroelectric facilities and wind farms. 

Per the Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewables comprised 72% of Maine’s net electricity generation in 2021 (the latest year available), led by hydroelectric with a 27% share. Wind turbines produced nearly one-fourth of that total. EIA data from mid-2022 shows wind resources provide over 1 GW of generating capacity in the state.


Floating Offshore Wind Research Array

The BOEM seeks public input on its draft environmental assessment for the offshore wind research lease, an area spanning 15.2 square miles in the Gulf of Maine. The research site is 30 miles off the mainland, southeast of Portland and Cape Small, and would feature up to 12 turbines generating 144 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy. 


Offshore wind planning areas in the Gulf of Maine

Offshore wind planning areas in the Gulf of Maine. Image used courtesy of Northeast Ocean Data


The project will use the University of Maine’s patented VolturnUS floating concrete hull technology, designed like an upside-down bridge to support wind turbines in waters deeper than 147 feet. VolturnUS uses industrialized pre-cast bridge construction methods to simplify development. It also touts a lower overall Levelized Cost Of Energy, higher corrosion resistance than steel, and lower operation and maintenance costs. 

The VolturnUS project received $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and $100 million from Diamond Offshore Wind, an arm of German energy giant RWE Renewables and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation. 


Fishing Industry Protections

The floating offshore wind research site will be located in federal waters, a strategic choice to protect Maine’s high-value fishing sector. Nearly 75% of its commercial lobster harvesting is centralized in state waters. That’s part of why Mills introduced a 10-year moratorium in April 2021 on new projects in state waters, pushing projects further out to federal sites. 

LD 1895 has that same idea in mind, protecting prime lobstering ground, Lobster Management Area 1, by favoring outside areas in the procurement process. 

The economic impact of Maine’s commercial fishing industry is significant. Lobster landings represent 80% of the U.S.’s total lobster catch. Maine's Department of Marine Resources notes that commercial harvesters earned $574 million in 2022. Lobstermen raked in the highest earnings, followed by elver harvesters, soft shell clams, menhaden landings, and scallops.