Maine will lead the nation in the race to build truly offshore floating wind power stations.

The May 11 signing ceremony of LD 1810 “An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force” brings the bill’s changes to numerous state laws into play, in a way that leaves other states behind. While the Cape Wind project is a perfect example of “dumb growth” — development that ignores existing economic engines and diverts the local wealth to absentee businesses — Maine’s plan, by comparison, is “smart growth.”

The original version of LD 1810 would have brought Maine as much strife and division as Massachusetts’ shortsighted decision to site windmills near some of its more profitably scenic shores. But instead of cluttering up our state’s coastal waters with power utility operations, Maine will direct the growth of ocean wind power to locations out in the true ocean wind belt, 20 and even 30 miles offshore.

This occurred as a result of sustained unrelenting pressure by members of Maine’s coastal communities, especially the commercial fishing industry’s lobstermen, groundfishermen, shrimpers and scallopers. As a result of their stand, state incentives will not be issued for ocean wind farm projects in state waters. Instead LD 1810 sets up a competitive solicitation process for building, transporting and operating deepwater floating wind and wave power systems offshore that by 2015 could supply 87,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year to Maine consumers, with hopes for greater expansion in decades to come.

Now, “offshore” means different things to different states. Unlike Massachusetts, Delaware, New Jersey and other coastal states, however, which are offering industry incentives to tap nearshore wind energy, Maine will focus on “distant water” wind farm operations, 20 to 30 miles offshore. The key limitation facing distant water wind farms’ energy loss from lengthy cable transmission has been overcome; superconducting power cables with virtually zero resistance to the currents passing through are now becoming the state of the art.

At the same time, the bill signing allows for prototype wave and tidal power generators in state waters, with test locations to be identified using a process similar to the one used to identify three test sites for prototype deep water floating wind turbines. The Bureau of Parks and Lands, which will license wave or tidal projects in Maine state waters, will be required to notify commercial fishermen of wind farm plans via the state’s Marine Resources Advisory Council and the state’s lobster zone councils.

Maine will be “branding” power from its over-the-horizon wind generation as the Maine “Ocean Wind Green Standard Offer.” Though like all wind power generators, electricity from the offshore wind facility will cost more than carbon based and hydropower based electricity, the state hopes consumers and industry will be attracted by the idea of purchasing “green” ocean power, from wind farms that do not interfere with lobstermen and other already existing businesses and communities that are already fully exploiting Maine’s scenic and wildlife coastal assets.

Maine’s Legislature and governor have seen the wisdom of keeping harmony among the many existing users of Maine’s coastal waters.

There are still a few disagreements: Maine Superior Court has been asked to decide whether the University of Maine’s offshore wind research and development site will be off scenic Monhegan Island or farther Down East off Machias. And on April 28, representatives of Bluewater Wind Corporation of New Jersey met with state officials to press for shallower, closer-to-shore leasing projects. Happily, state officials do not appear to have shown any more than polite interest, while noting their plan would go against the will of the people of Maine, as expressed through their legislators, their interest groups and their governor.

Kudos to Gov. Baldacci and the Maine Legislature for listening to Maine people and not cluttering up Maine’s coastal waters with power utility operations. In the next session, legislators should revisit the bill that fast-tracked land-based wind farms, and show Maine’s inland residents the same respect for their scenic and nature based economies as they have shown its seagoing people.

Ron Huber is executive director of Penobscot Bay Watch.