June 30, 2011 - court lets Monhegan offshore wind site move forward

A court has cleared the waters off the Maine island of Monhegan for the development of an offshore wind pilot project. Back in December 2009, the Maine Ocean Energy Task Force selected Monhegan and two other sites -- Boon Island and Damariscove Island -- as test sites for offshore wind development. At the Monhegan site, the DeepCWind Consortium, a group led by the University of Maine, plans to develop a scale-model floating platform and test turbine about 2 miles south of the island.

Connecting islanders to the mainland, the Sea Queen provides mailboat and passenger service to the Cranberry Isles.

Monhegan is a gem of an island. Situated about 12 nautical miles offshore, the island supports a year-round population of about 75, with summers bringing about 6,000 visitors and summer residents ashore. Monhegan is not connected to the mainland by electric transmission lines, with most of the electricity on the island coming from a 300 kW diesel generator. To many, the combination of community and ocean energy resources makes Monhegan an attractive test site for offshore wind.

The project is not without its opponents, though a court ruling last week has cleared at least one obstacle to project development. In January 2010, shortly after the Monhegan site was selected, an environmental activist filed a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Conservation, arguing that the Department had illegally approved the Monhegan site without considering the impact of the project on birds, the environment, and the aesthetics of the project as viewed from the island. The activist claimed to have legal standing to challenge the approval on grounds including a constitutional right to practice religion through conservation stewardship. Last week, after reviewing the evidence upon which the Department made its decision -- 359 pages of documents assessing the impacts of the project -- Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm issued an order finding that although the activist did have standing to challenge the Department's action, the Department's decision complied with the law and is valid.

This ruling helps clear the way for the Monhegan project to move forward, but there are still more steps to be taken, including both engineering and regulatory hurdles to pass. DeepCWind anticipates installing the first one-third scale test platform in 2012.