ST. GEORGE, Maine — Locals and fishermen wondering how floating wind turbines will affect fishing grounds and the feel of their town had a chance to air questions and grievances to people behind the project this week.
“We need the resource to fish on, but we also need to be able to get to the resource,” said Richard Nelson, a 30-plus-year lobsterman based out of Friendship. “It’s a balancing act. Renewables are positive unto themselves, but as fisherman we have to be able to get to the fish.”
Fishermen worry about how close they’ll be able to get to the turbines without entering restricted space, and also want to avoid getting traps stuck on underwater wires and moorings. Those boundaries likely will be set by the U.S. Coast Guard much later in the planning process.
The University of Maine’s vision for an offshore energy farm made up of floating turbines is grinding toward fruition, scheduled to start running electricity to the grid by 2019.
The U.S. Department of Energy, University of Maine Advanced Structures Composites Center and its partners hosted a pair of informational sessions on Tuesday at the St. George Town Hall, drawing a few dozen locals. The group is scheduled to host a similar session Wednesday, March 1, on Monhegan Island, where some residents have expressed trepidation or outright opposition to the selected location of the pair of turbines.
The project, Aqua Ventus I, will put a pair of 6-megawatt floating turbines about 2.5 miles off the southern coast of Monhegan Island. The towers will rise about 328 feet above the water. The project is intended to be a precursor to a much larger turbine farm that would develop in a different location more than 20 miles off the Maine coast.
The state and university selected the site after years of researching wind and wave conditions, as well as the migratory paths of bird and sea life activity. The group also polled fishermen to find out what grounds they prefered to use in the area.
Chris Chadwick, another local fisherman, said he’s also concerned about how the operation of the turbines might change the tiny fishing community of St. George. The company that ultimately installs and maintains the turbines is expected to have employees and equipment based on the mainland, and Chadwick worries it will add to traffic and parking shortages in St. George.
Aqua Ventus I is in the early stages of developing an environmental assessment as part of the Department of Energy’s National Environmental Policy Act review process.
Construction on the turbines themselves is expected to start in 2018. The floating concrete foundations will be created in Hampden, floated to Searsport, topped with the turbine towers and then hauled out to sea.
Nelson said there’s concern among people in the area that UMaine will scale up the turbine operation around Monhegan, adding more turbines there rather than taking the larger operation farther offshore. The university maintains that won’t happen.