State Launches New Wind Energy Effort Off Coast

OCEAN CITY — It appears that talks could resume concerning offshore wind turbines now that the Maryland Energy Administration has shown serious interest in re-igniting the conversation.

At the tail end of Tuesday’s work session at City Hall, Mayor Rick Meehan informed the general public and the council about a meeting at the local Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) offices with representatives from the MEA who wanted to bring the town up to date with Governor Martin O’Malley’s new goals about bringing renewable energy sources to the state.

Although Meehan wanted to make abundantly clear that no decisions had been made, and the meeting was nothing more than a conversation about what’s proverbially coming, Meehan said that the topic could be a hot one in the foreseeable future.

“One of the governor’s goals for renewable energy is to pursue something that we’ve heard about many times here in Ocean City, and that’s offshore wind energy,” said Meehan. “There have been no decisions made, or contracts, or even negotiations at this time, but there is going to be committees and meetings and taskforces set in place to talk about wind energy and where would be best to have that. Surely, off the coast of Ocean City is going to be part of that conversation.”

A press release from the state called offshore wind energy a “critical component for achieving Maryland’s renewable energy goals” and outlined a three-prong strategy to speed up the deployment of offshore wind energy.

The first seems to be in the process of happening as the MEA plans to reach out to local leaders and elected officials in order to get input on how to make this goal a reality.

The second step seems to be much more scientific as the MEA will try to determine the available resources for offshore wind energy generation off Maryland’s coast and outer continental shelf.

Most notably, however, the MEA is planning to issue a “Request for Expressions of Interest and Information” in order to try to get essential business partners for renewable energy generation.

“There are some real advantages in this plan,” said Meehan. “As of right now, Ocean City is at the very end of the transmission lines, making us very vulnerable for energy constraints and conditions, but if offshore wind comes to Worcester County, we’ll be at the front end of the electrical supply and increasing reliability in this region.”

When this issue was brought to the City Council in 2008, there were some concerns about the aesthetics or visual impacts that offshore wind turbines could have on local tourism.

Simply put, there were people who thought that being able to see a wind turbine on the horizon line, albeit it at the size of a thumbnail or a toothpick, was too risky for tourism in Ocean City.

Then-Councilwoman Nancy Howard and current Councilman Jim Hall flat out said that they didn’t want to see wind turbines of any kind on the horizon line, even thought they admittedly were intrigued by the concept.

Now, as the state tries to be near the forefront of the country’s green movement, Ocean City appears to have a vital role in that process as offshore wind energy is a big part of O’Malley’s plan.

“There are advantages, but, of course, there are disadvantages, and I’ve expressed my concerns about our industry and how we are concerned with how that could affect our industry,” said Meehan, “but again, this is just the first steps in the process.”

The turbines could be placed up to 12 miles off the coast and similar offshore wind farms have popped up in almost 30 locations in Europe and proposed offshore in Delaware.

The MEA estimates that offshore wind could offer tremendous economic growth and create up to 100,000 jobs by 2015.

The project could be costly, however, as the state estimates that “significant upgrades” to the transmission lines and substations on the peninsula would be needed.