OCEAN CITY – It came to light last week a New Jersey-based alternative energy company is exploring the possibility of developing a wind farm off the coast of Ocean City, following the lead of its already approved projects in Delaware, New York and Rhode Island.
Bluewater Wind, one of the nation’s leading developers of offshore wind energy, has had cursory meetings with officials in Maryland about the possibility of choosing a site off the coast of Ocean City for its next project. The preliminary plans call for 150 turbines about 12 miles off the coast of the resort. The turbines, essentially giant four-story high windmills, would provide enough clean, efficient energy to supply an estimated 110,000 homes.
The concept is being embraced in Maryland and other states because of the potential upside and the relatively low downside. One of the biggest benefits is the opportunity to harness an underutilized energy source and begin to wean the nation off its dependence on oil-based energy.
Bluewater Wind spokesman James Lanard said this week the proposed project could help alleviate concerns about Maryland’s future energy needs.
“We know Maryland is facing a deficit in generation capacity and the O’Malley administration is very concerned about the state’s energy issues,” he said. “We’re at the beginning of a very slow process to reach out to stakeholders and see if there is a desire for this in Maryland.”
Lanard confirmed Bluewater Wind officials had a preliminary meeting with a couple of members of Maryland’s Public Service Commission last week as well as an informal meeting with the governor and members of his staff in order to gauge interest in a wind farm off the coast.
“We are undertaking this very slowly and very deliberately,” he said. “We did have some very cursory meetings with some members of the Public Service Commission, but it wasn’t a quorum meeting. There have been no proposals submitted, nor have we been asked to submit a proposal at this point.”
Bluewater Wind’s proposal is not the first attempt at creating a wind farm off the coast of Ocean City. Three years ago, another company, Winergy Inc., came before the Mayor and Council with a proposal but was rebuffed.
“A company came before us a few years back with a similar proposal, but we had a lot of questions and they eventually just went away,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “We raised concerns about environmental issues and visual pollution, but as I recall, they proposed building the turbines much closer to the shore.”
This time around, Bluewater Wind appears to have its ducks in a row and already has an approved project underway in neighboring Delaware off the coast of Rehoboth.
“There are tons of positives with very few if any negatives,” he said. “It’s a renewable energy source with zero carbon emissions and perhaps the most important factor is the stable price. The first day those turbines start spinning, we will know what the price will be 25 years later.”
Lanard said one of the biggest concerns about the proposed project would be the visibility of the turbines from the shore. He explained the windmills could only be seen from the shore on the clearest of days and even then would appear to be the size of about half a thumb nail and as thin as a splinter.
“The selected sites would be far enough offshore to avoid migratory flyways and reduce visibility to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “People have different views on these turbines, so we try to put them far enough offshore that it doesn’t become an issue.”
Meehan said the town would take a close look at Bluewater Wind’s proposal if and when it’s presented.
“There is not even a proposal yet,” he said. “They are considering a site off the coast of Ocean City, but it’s in its infancy. We haven’t even talked.”
Speaking only for himself, Meehan said he would enter any discussion about a proposed wind farm off the coast of the resort with no prejudices.
“We need to be open-minded,” he said. “It’s 2007 and there is an increased need for alternative energy sources. If an opportunity for clean, sustainable energy comes around, it’s due careful consideration. There a lot of things to consider. We tend to look at reasons why not to do something, when we should sometimes look at reasons to do something.”
Meehan said the project off the coast of Rehoboth would afford Ocean City officials the opportunity to see how it works.
“Since they’re preparing to do a project off the coast of Rehoboth, we have the opportunity to watch what happens there,” he said. “At some point, they’re going to make a presentation to us and we will have the benefit of seeing how it works next door.”
While much of the discussion has focused on the offshore elements of the proposed wind farm, little has been said about how the energy harnessed makes it way to the shore.
“One of the issues I have is how it makes landfall,” the mayor said. “A cable or cables have to come ashore somewhere. How big are they? Where do they come ashore? What is needed in terms of a facility on the shore? These are all questions we will have to ask.”