The British diplomat covering New England met with Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday to discuss energy issues, including the offshore wind turbines that are integral to Maine’s long-term climate goals.
The meeting is part of a week-long virtual trade mission that Peter Abbott, the British consul general to New England, is making in Maine as a follow-up to an agreement the United Kingdom and Maine signed in December to advance clean energy to meet respective climate goals. It is the only agreement like it between the U.K. and an American state.
Abbott’s virtual visit comes as Mills looks to offshore wind as a significant opportunity for economic recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession and as his own country, now separate from the European Union, tries to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States.
Offshore wind is a key part of the Democratic governor’s plan revealed last November to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind research farm between 20 and 40 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine. Mills’ plan met resistance from the fisheries industry. In response, she proposed a 10-year moratorium on new offshore wind projects in state-managed waters.
Mills did not provide a timeline for the project, but state climate goals are to move to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. Abbott said the governor was wise to proceed with caution, citing decades of experience with fishermen in his country.
“The fishing industry will be the first to admit that they have suffered from the impacts of climate change on reducing the stocks and reducing marine diversity,” Abbott said in a Tuesday interview with the Bangor Daily News before his talk with Mills.
The U.K. is the largest offshore wind market in the world, followed by Germany, according to Renewable Energy World. Its government plans to generate a third of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, Reuters said.
Abbott said the U.K.’s knowledge and experience, along with the country already having two commercial floating offshore wind turbines, could be useful to Maine in its decisions on developing those turbines. He is also “keen to share expertise” in a meeting with Habib Dagher, the University of Maine professor developing floating offshore wind technology.
One example of bringing the fisheries and offshore wind communities together that might provide some lessons for Maine is the West of Morecambe Fisheries project that ran for seven years, he said. Under it, the offshore wind industry put money into a fund managed by the fishing industry to pay for workforce development, investments in fishing infrastructure and helping the fishing industry pivot away from outdated methods. He said it also is also important to keep various parties discussing concerns openly.
Abbott said he also wanted to hear about Maine politics from Mills so he has the chance to “get under the skin of the state and talk more broadly about whether there are any further trade and investment opportunities for the U.K. in the state of Maine.”
A Mills spokesperson said the governor and Abbott had a productive conversation about energy, Maine’s growing life sciences sector, innovation and the new Roux Institute, a graduate school and research institute in Portland.
“The governor looks forward to maintaining a strong relationship with the United Kingdom that strengthens our economy and benefits the people of Maine,” her spokesperson said.
Negotiations on a trade agreement between the United States and the U.K. made substantial ground under the administration of former President Donald Trump, Abbott said, but they were interrupted by President Joe Biden’s election and the appointment of a new U.S. trade representative.
Maine’s lobster trade has been harmed by a free trade agreement that the European Union signed with Canada in 2017. Last November, the EU dropped its 8 percent tariff on American lobsters for at least five years.
“We hope to put sustainable agriculture, including fisheries and seafood, at the heart of that agreement,” Abbott said of the new trade deal. “And we hope that would have an element that will be favorable to the Maine lobster industry and help promote the exports of Maine lobsters to the U.K.”
During his virtual trade mission, Abbott met with top Democrats in Maine including Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, Maine Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau. He also will meet with business leaders and academics to talk about trade opportunities, investments by British businesses, aquaculture and life sciences. Tom Nickalls, first secretary of trade policy for the U.K., is also attending.