After a 20-year incubation, planning for offshore wind energy has exploded under the Biden administration and fishermen on the East and West coasts are facing a steady stream of challenges, said panelists at a Pacific Marine Expo panel Thursday.
“We have been fighting offshore wind since 2003. On the East Coast we think there are about 16 wind leases that are starting to crop up,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.
“Our role has been rabble rouser to let people know what’s involved in these projects,” said Brady, a National Fisherman 2020 Highliner. “I used to be a reporter. I think the truth is really important. They will pick you off, group by group, state by state. By having a collective force for all of us, we are able to fight it more effectively.”
On West Coast waters, plans by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and wind developers are still in infancy – but moving faster, said Mike Conroy, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
“This is where it is today, who knows where things will be tomorrow or this afternoon,” Conroy quipped in summarizing the California situation.
The California state lands commission is looking at two pilot projects, four turbines each under environmental review, he said. The 376-square mile Morro Bay wind energy area formally opened the BOEM public comment period Friday. To the north, the Humboldt Wind Energy Area, outlined in July 2021, could move to the next stage with public comment in January, he said.
In Oregon, where BOEM has yet to propose “call areas” inviting industry proposals, the state is taking a measured approach with its own study group.
“The process that has been unfolding in Oregon really could be a role model for the future,” with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife pressing BOEM for more detail, said Conroy.
“Washington is even further behind Oregon, which is further behind California,” but the Grays Harbor Wind development group is seeking support for a project there, he said.
The deepwater Gulf of Maine is another frontier for offshore wind developers – but moving apace with encouragement from the state of Maine, said Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
“One turbine site for research has expanded to a 16-mile” experimental wind power zone, said Porter. “Our role has been as a mediator. Normally that would be your state agency, but there is no honest broker because our state is the applicant.”
The big question is “who gets to pick where these sites are going to be,” said Porter. He noted how in Maine, where fishing tends to be territorial among lobstermen from the same ports, taking grounds from one group may prompt then to try moving into another area where they’re not very welcome.
“We consider ourselves fishermen, but we’re also food producers,” said Porter. While wind power advocates predict new jobs from offshore turbines, some displacement of fishing jobs is inevitable, he said.
“There’s already an industry there. Yeah, you got plenty of it, but somebody’s going to be looking for a new job,” Porter added. “In these small communities, you don’t look for a new job, you look for a new life.”
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of about 200 members associated with the fishing industry, organized about four years ago “so we could find a consensus in the industry’s position on offshore wind and put that forward,” said RODA Executive Director Annie Hawkins.
Now the group has a West Coast branch, and races to keep up with the Biden administration’s ambitions.
“There was a goal of 110 gigawatts by 2050, about four times the power grid of New England” quoted in some federal planning, said Hawkins. “That’s about 11,000 square miles of ocean.”
But the shorter-term goal of 30 GW by 2030 is being called “probably not achievable” considering the challenges of building a U.S. supply chain, planning and permitting, she said.
“To a large extent we really don’t know what kind of technology we’re talking about right now,” said Hawkins. “There is no such thing as a 12- or 15-MW floating turbine. But that’s what they’re planning for these areas.”
It’s apparent that government and industry are seeing the oceans as a previously unexploited source of energy – and site for new development that would encounter stronger political opposition in populated areas on land, said Hawkins.
“We are at the beginning of an entirely new era of how our government is looking at our oceans,” she said. “If you’re not paying attention yet, it’s a darn good time to start doing it.”