The U.S. Department of the Interior is moving ahead on steps to bring offshore wind energy development to the Gulf of Maine. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has made available a Request for Interest (RFI) and Request for Competitive Interest (RFCI) in the Federal Register for public comment.
Back in July 2021, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed into law legislation prohibiting new offshore wind projects in state waters —where up to 75% of Maine’s commercial lobster harvesting occurs — saying Maine’s priority was to locate offshore wind projects in federal waters in the Gulf of Maine. That came after she had previously signed separate legislation to advance the state’s creation of America’s first research area for floating offshore wind in federal waters in the Gulf of Maine.
The just-released RFI is the first step in BOEM’s commercial planning and leasing process to identify the offshore locations that appear most suitable for development, taking into consideration potential impacts to other resources and ocean users. The purpose of the RFI is to gauge interest in the development of commercial wind energy leases within the RFI Area, which consists of about 13,713,800 acres in the Gulf of Maine.
The RFCI is the next step in processing the State of Maine’s application for a research lease for floating wind and provides notice of the proposed research area that Maine requested. BOEM is issuing this RFCI because the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and implementing regulations require that the agency determine whether competitive interest exists in any area that is the subject of an unsolicited lease request.
If BOEM does not receive any indications of competitive interest for a lease in response to this notice, BOEM will move forward with the research application. However, if one or more indications of competitive interest from qualified entities are submitted, BOEM may decide to move forward with the lease issuance process using competitive leasing procedures.
Maine’s application requests 9,700 acres on the Outer Continental Shelf more than 20 nautical miles off the Maine coast. If developed, the research array would comprise up to 12 floating offshore wind turbines capable of generating up to 144 megawatts of renewable energy. BOEM invites submission of indications of commercial interest, as well as comments from interested and affected parties.
The RFCI Area (68,320 acres) expands upon Maine’s requested research lease area to allow future siting flexibility to avoid or minimize conflicts with existing ocean users should a lease (research or commercial) be issued. Only a project that is approximately the size of Maine’s research lease proposal (i.e., no more than 10,000 acres and no more than 12 floating turbines) and provides a conceptual framework for addressing the research priorities identified in the RFCI will have the potential to move forward.