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MaineDOT Applies for Federal Grant to Build Offshore Wind Port On Sears Island

Wed May 22, 2024 - Northeast Edition
Maine Department of Transportation

Based on feasibility studies conducted by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), stakeholder input and several environmental studies, Maine is advancing plans for a purpose-built facility in Searsport at Sears Island for floating offshore wind fabrication, staging, assembly, maintenance and deployment.
Map courtesy of Maine Offshore Wind Initiative
Based on feasibility studies conducted by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), stakeholder input and several environmental studies, Maine is advancing plans for a purpose-built facility in Searsport at Sears Island for floating offshore wind fabrication, staging, assembly, maintenance and deployment.

The Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) announced May 17 that it had 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, MaineDOT's commissioner.

"At the direction of Gov. Janet 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 Mills said last winter that the state-owned portion of Sears Island is Maine's preferred site for a port facility.

Sears Island encompasses 941 acres in Penobscot Bay directly off the coast from the town of Searsport.

In 2009, the 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; 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 in May for the project, which is identified in the grant application as the Dirigo Atlantic Floating Offshore Wind Port Project.

Site Could Become Economic Hub for Maine

Maine officials hope that the port project will establish the state's place in the growing offshore wind industry — making it a hub for job creation and economic development — and help achieve renewable energy goals established by both the Biden Administration and the Maine Legislature.

The initiative has been welcomed by a strong and diverse coalition of environmental, labor and economic organizations, according to MaineDOT.

At the end of April, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced its proposal for the first public auctions of wind energy areas in the Gulf of Maine, including eight lease areas totaling nearly 1 million acres with the potential to generate approximately 15 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power more than 5 million homes.

In selecting these areas, BOEM heeded the calls of the Mills Administration and the state's Congressional delegation to prohibit offshore wind development in vital Maine fishing grounds.

Currently, there are no other ports being considered on the East Coast that can accommodate all aspects of floating offshore wind construction/deployment and have easy access to wind energy areas.

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 the New England state to realize economic, energy and climate benefits from offshore wind, in conjunction with communities, fisheries and wildlife on the Gulf of Maine.

Sears Island An Ideal Place for Wind Port

Several factors favor the state's selection of the Sears Island site for an offshore wind port:

  • As a large, level area with deepwater access, the 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 any port project.
  • A wind port on Sears Island would avoid impacts on existing commercial or industrial activities in the nearby Port of Searsport.
  • Due to Maine owning the Sears Island land, the upfront and ongoing costs for a port facility on the island 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. A study from 2021 found that 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 and compliant vessel purpose-built for the floating offshore wind industry.

The Sears Island 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 in 2024, which also will include additional opportunities for stakeholder and public input on the project.

A decision on the grant application is expected sometime this year, according to the state transportation agency.

If funding is awarded, the lead federal agency on the Sears Island project will initiate an environmental review in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. This process will inform and run parallel with permitting processes of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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