See Offshore Wind Farm’s Big Picture

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The Ocean City Mayor and Council heard some more about a potential wind farm off the Maryland coast this week. If the proposal ever comes to fruition, the alternative energy it produces could power as many as 136,000 homes in the region when at capacity.

One clear message was delivered to Bluewater Wind, the company pitching the concept. If it’s not visible from the beach, the Ocean City Mayor and Council would be okay with it. Any other way and it’s a deal breaker. That’s what I got from a majority of the council. This does not exactly epitomize mature depth of thought, and we think the council needs to carefully consider its words here. From what we heard this week, it would be easy to chide officials for having a small-town, 20th century mentality.

Bluewater Wind recently inked a long-term contract with Delaware and Delmarva Power to build an offshore wind farm 11 miles east of Rehoboth Beach. This would be the first offshore wind farm in the country, providing energy to about 50,000 households each year by 2012. While that process continues to clear regulatory hurdles, Bluewater is looking to develop a wind farm off Maryland’s coast to take advantage of the “great wind resources off of the mid-Atlantic states that can produce stable-priced energy for Maryland’s citizens.”

The details of the Maryland proposal are still being worked out. This much we know: as many as 200 wind turbines are planned to be built 12 miles off the coast. How many underwater cables will be constructed and where they will come ashore to connect with Delmarva Power is a tricky situation. There are a lot of unknowns here that need clarification, but the potential for an alternative energy source, by means of converting wind into electricity, is exciting.

Ocean City officials seem to grasp the need for renewable energy and have embraced the concept. But what’s foremost in their mind is visibility from the coast. The view of the ocean and horizon from Ocean City’s beach is marvelous and it should not be tampered with in any serious way. Whether windmills 12 miles off Ocean City’s coast hurts that view is a matter of discretion. We do not think it does. The fact is a majority of the time the windmills will not be visible. Even on the clearest of days, which is not what the summer is known for around here (haze), the wind mills will reportedly be about half the size of a thumbnail and as thin as a toothpick. To us, that’s not enough to derail this project.

Studies show wind energy helps the environment by helping fight global warming because it provides no water or air emissions and avoids emitting billions of pounds of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. What needs further examination is the impact on birds and marine life. That will need a careful look. However, logic says each wind turbine foundation could provide an excellent artificial reef for habitat. Clearly, more evaluation is needed, but it’s our hope it’s done soon.

There are no windmills in the ocean in the U.S., but they are all the rage in Europe. Delaware is poised to make history, and it’s worth exploring with an open-mind the chance Maryland could link up with that system, all the while understanding this is a long way from happening. There are many steps ahead before this process can even begin in earnest.

This is a long-range endeavor, one requiring a lot of elevated thought and foresight. The council should consider the big picture here before it lets something as superficial as a potentially small image a dozen miles away get in the way of what has a lot of potential.

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