Suzanne Pude of the Island Institute said that the event was modeled after a similar conference organized in Massachusetts. “We wanted to give stakeholders the opportunity to learn about the goals set by the state, but also to take a step back to see the critical factors that are influencing development of wind power, such as increasing energy costs and electricity demands,” said Pude.

Jake Ward of the University of Maine explained how the university is designing, building, deploying and testing one-third-scale floating platform technology in waters off Monhegan. Because of the University’s experience with durable, lightweight, hybrid composite materials, the U.S. Department of Energy provided funding to design and evaluate the new floating platform designs in a wave tank being constructed on the Orono campus. The University is also involved in monitoring the impacts of wind energy development and production on birds, bats, insects, fish, whales, lobster, etc.

Others who depend on the Maine coast are paying attention to make sure their livelihoods are protected. Fisherman Glen Libby of Port Clyde pointed out that the affected community extends beyond the island of Monhegan. “There’s a lot more mobile gear in that area, and you need to look at the entire Muscongus Bay region,” he said.

Rick Bellavance, who represented the Rhode Island Charter Boat Association in that state’s comprehensive marine spatial planning process, which designated certain areas for energy development, advised Maine’s fishing community to get involved and to get involved early. “The hardest thing for a fisherman to do is sit down in a room with environmental groups and resource managers and try to talk in a productive way about marine space. It was a challenge, but one that had to be met,” said Bellavance. “We have to get over it and sit down and have an honest conversation. You have to be at the table in order to tell the state folks that the data they are using is old, inaccurate, etc. We know there are going to be areas we can’t fish anymore, and the only way to get compensated is to make sure there are policies and standards in place to deal with that.”

The employment news isn’t all bad. The Maine Marine Trades Association and the Maine Wind Industry Initiative are looking at how to incorporate wind into Maine’s existing construction, manufacturing and engineering businesses. The Initiative’s representative Paul Williamson estimated a potential for 15,000 jobs in turbine and component manufacturing, and also boat building and other water-dependent industries. “Maine has a reputation for a solid, hard-working workforce, but we need to invest in training and education so that those workers who have that great work ethic also have the knowledge and skills to get the well-paying jobs,” said Williamson.

Ocean Renewable Power Company’s (ORPC) tidal energy project in Cobscook Bay is providing a glimpse of what ocean energy can do economically. “We’ve pumped over $5 million into the state economy and have retained over 100 jobs,” said Glen Marquis of ORPC. Marquis also advised potential wind developers on best practices of community engagement. “We spend as much time and effort cultivating the community as we do the technology and site development,” he said. “Communities need to know, What’s in it for us?”

Many people attending the December conference wanted to know what direction the incoming LePage Administration planned to take regarding offshore energy. Representative Stacey Fitts of Pittsfield said that the Governor is open to discussion on how ratepayers are affected by energy policy, and also to looking forward. “This Administration will support things that make sense. There will be a new analysis, re-prioritizing I’m sure, but I don’t think we are going to abandon all the work that’s been done,” said Fitts.

As the state resets priorities and the University research continues, the Maine Public Utilities Commission is awaiting proposals for commercial ocean wind energy pilot projects, which are due in May. When and if a developer emerges, communities and other coastal users will need to be informed and prepared to work with developers, which is why conference organizers intend on taking the lessons learned from the gathering to expand, host and sponsor outreach opportunities.

Catherine Schmitt is communications coordinator for Maine Sea Grant.

*Edited to correct Maine’s energy goal to five gigawatts.