As a child, I spent my summers playing on the beaches of the Gulf of Maine with my brothers and sisters – the soft sand under my feet, the sun’s warming touch on my skin, and the powerful ocean breeze flowing through my hair. Little did I know that, one day, that same powerful breeze could power our homes and cities with clean energy.
Now, offshore wind is coming to the Gulf of Maine. This means the federal government is kickstarting a planning process to lease federal waters for offshore wind development. Offshore wind energy is critical to slowing climate change – but it must be developed in a way that protects ocean wildlife and maintains a healthy ocean. Over the coming months, we will have an opportunity to help shape this process and the future of offshore wind in these precious waters.
CLF and other organizations are leading the charge by urging federal officials to conduct a comprehensive review of the potential environmental impacts of offshore wind development before designating and leasing areas in the Gulf of Maine. We need to transition to clean energy sources, now. These improved environmental reviews will help us do so while protecting the health and prosperity of our coastal communities and the environment.
A Sea Within a Sea
Known as a “sea within a sea,” the Gulf of Maine is characterized by a unique undersea topography of deep basins, shallow banks, and ledges. Its powerful tidal currents mix the cold waters of the North Atlantic with the freshwater of 60 rivers draining into the Gulf – making it one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. These unique conditions fuel a biological engine that supports about 3000 species of wildlife, including marine mammals, fish, birds, turtles, and invertebrates.
The Gulf of Maine also plays a significant role in New England’s culture and is the foundation for a coastal economy characterized by commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture, boating, shipping, and tourism.
We Can Pursue Clean Energy Without Having to Compromise the Health of Our Ocean
Throughout my lifetime, and here in New England, we have relied on dirty fossil fuels as our main source of energy. But that has taken a toll on our health and the environment, including our ocean. The Gulf of Maine is overheating, with temperatures rising faster than 96% of the global ocean. This has put ocean ecosystems and the livelihoods of our coastal communities at risk. We deserve better.
Renewable sources of energy, like offshore wind, offer a long-term solution to address the harmful impacts that burning dirty fossil fuels has on our climate. Recently, the federal government took a critical step to tackle the climate crisis: The Biden administration committed to deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 – enough energy to power more than 10 million homes across our nation. To get there, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has plans to issue new offshore wind leases in at least seven regions by 2025 – including in the Gulf of Maine.
If done correctly, these projects will play a crucial role in cleaning up our electric grid in New England. That’s where the process becomes critical.
The Process to Identify Wind Energy Areas is Backward
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies, like BOEM, to take a hard look at the potential environmental and economic impacts of their actions. But right now, the agency conducts a comprehensive environmental review of the full scope of impacts from offshore wind only after identifying and leasing an area.
By not doing a comprehensive review before selecting wind energy areas, the agency risks siting offshore wind in a location that results in significant negative impacts on our coastal communities, important ocean habitat, marine mammals, seabirds, and other ocean wildlife.
Early and comprehensive analysis is an important adjustment to the current process— the agency should first evaluate all potential impacts and benefits of offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine as a whole, before selecting locations (not after).
CLF in Action
CLF and other organizations are pushing the government to change its process of identifying and leasing wind energy areas.
In 2019, the federal government set up the Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force to advance the process of leasing offshore wind areas. Last May, after a two–year hiatus, this task force convened again. In advance of this meeting, CLF and our partners submitted a letter asking BOEM to update its environmental review process.
Specifically, we urged the agency to develop a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) in the Gulf of Maine before designating and leasing areas appropriate for offshore wind. This comprehensive environmental analysis would help:
- Avoid and reduce impacts on the environment and marine wildlife
- Avoid and minimize potential socioeconomic impacts on our coastal communities and economy
- Improve public engagement by giving all stakeholders a meaningful seat at the table from the start
- Build trust with our communities by showing that wind energy areas are identified through a fair, transparent, and data-driven public process
For decades, CLF has been a champion of clean, renewable energies. As we embark on this exciting chapter to harness wind power in the Gulf of Maine, CLF will continue advocating for our communities, wildlife, and the environment. We are fortunate to have access to that powerful ocean breeze. Together, we can lay out the foundation for how to make the most of this exciting resource effectively and responsibly.