Sprague Energy promotes competing location at Mack Point in Searsport

Maine DOT seeks $456 million federal grant to help fund wind port on Sears Island

Fri, 05/17/2024 - 8:45pm

    AUGUSTA - The Maine Department of Transportation said May 17 that it has applied for $456 million in grant funding from the federal government to help construct the East Coast's first floating offshore wind port on a portion of state-owned Sears Island that is reserved for port development.

    "Maine has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help transform our economy, protect our environment, create good-paying jobs, and support the generation of clean, affordable, reliable energy for Maine and the region," said Bruce Van Note, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, in a news release. "At the direction of Governor Mills, we will work collaboratively across the Administration to bring every federal dollar available to Maine to help us seize this opportunity for our people, our environment, and our future."

    The application for funding comes after Governor Mills said in February that the state-owned portion of Sears Island that is reserved for port development is the State of Maine's preferred site for a port facility.

    Sears Island is a 941-acre island off the coast of Searsport. In 2009, Sears Island was, by agreement, divided into two parcels: approximately 601 acres, or two thirds of the island, was placed in a permanent conservation easement held by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, while the remaining one third, or approximately 330 acres, was reserved by MaineDOT for future development.

    The state concluded that the Sears Island parcel is the most feasible port development site in terms of location, logistics, cost, and environmental impact based on input from port and offshore wind stakeholders, including the University of Maine, and on technical and engineering analyses.

    MaineDOT submitted the request for Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant funding to the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month seeking federal funding for the project, which is identified in the grant application as the Dirigo Atlantic Floating Offshore Wind Port Project.

    The state hopes that the port project will establish Maine's place in the growing offshore wind industry and become a hub for job creation and economic development and will help achieve renewable energy goals established by both the Biden Administration and the Maine Legislature, the release said.

    “ It has been welcomed by a strong and diverse coalition of environmental, labor, and economic organizations,” the DOT said.

    On April 30, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its proposal for the first public auctions of wind energy areas in the Gulf of Maine.

    This will include eight lease areas totaling nearly one million acres with the potential to generate approximately 15 GW of clean, renewable energy. This is enough energy to power more than five million homes, the DOT said.

    In selecting these areas, BOEM heeded the calls of Governor Mills and Maine's Congressional Delegation to prohibit offshore wind development in vital Maine fishing grounds, the DOT said.

    Currently, there are no other ports being considered on the East Coast that can accommodate all aspects of floating offshore wind construction and deployment and that are close to wind energy areas in the Gulf of Maine, the release said.

    The selection of a port site reflects a priority of the Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap, a stakeholder-driven comprehensive plan that offers detailed strategies for Maine to realize economic, energy, and climate benefits from offshore wind, in conjunction with communities, fisheries, and wildlife of the Gulf of Maine.

    Several factors support the state's selection of the Sears Island site for an offshore wind port, according to the release:

    The State of Maine owns the parcel of land on Sears Island.
    The parcel of land on Sears Island has been reserved since 2009 for development.

    As a large, level area with deepwater access, the Sears Island site has beneficial physical and logistical characteristics for building a port facility at the scale required to support floating offshore wind port operations.

    Unlike adjacent Mack Point, the Sears Island site is not expected to require dredging, a key environmental and financial consideration for a port project.The Sears Island site would avoid impacts on existing commercial or industrial activities in the Port of Searsport.

    Because the parcel of land on Sears Island is owned by the state, the upfront and ongoing costs for a port facility are estimated to be substantially less than on Mack Point, which is privately owned and would require monthly lease fees.

    MaineDOT's grant application also includes support for construction of a semi-submersible barge.

    As detailed in the 2021 Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group process, a heavy-lift barge is required to accommodate the launching of foundations of floating offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. As proposed, this barge would be the first U.S.-flagged, Jones Act-compliant vessel purpose-built for the floating offshore wind industry.

    The port project is subject to extensive and independent state and federal permitting processes, including assessments of environmental impacts and alternative sites. MaineDOT, on behalf of the state, intends to apply for permits later this year, which will also include additional opportunities for stakeholder and public input on the project.

    A decision on this grant application is expected later this year. If funding is awarded, the lead federal agency on the project will initiate an environmental review in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. This federal process will inform and run parallel with permitting processes of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

    In addition to this grant application, the State of Maine will continue to pursue further federal funding opportunities for the offshore wind port project.

    Go here to view the MaineDOT's grant application and other materials.

    Meanwhile, Sprague Energy, owner of the Mack Point Terminal, is advocating for the wind port to be sited at its alternative facility. Sprague Energy has mounted a competing location endorsed by those who oppose developing Sears Island for a wind port.

    Sprague Energy is advocating for Mack Point to be the site, saying it presents lower environmental impacts.

    This alternative to the Maine DOT proposal, said Sprague Energy, minimizes:

    Impacts on ecosystems, wildlife and marine life
    Stimulates economic development and creates jobs

    Improves energy security

    Cuts climate-destabilizing pollution

    Protects the natural resources critical to mitigating the impacts of climate change and maintaining the Maine lifestyle