Early Wind Farm Plan Pitched In OC

OCEAN CITY – History was made in Ocean City last week with the first official presentation made in Ocean City on the proposed wind farm off the town’s coast.

A plan for the wind farm off Ocean City’s coast has been in the works for a few years now. Two hundred wind turbines are proposed for 12-17 miles off the shore and standing 40 stories tall and providing 600 megawatts of energy, enough to supply 135,000 homes with electricity.

According to the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), in 2009 Maryland signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Delaware and Virginia committing to regional cooperation on common electric transmission strategy to encourage sustainable market demand and to foster federal energy and regulatory policies to further the development and use of offshore wind resources.

Tom Carlson of Chesapeake Climate Action Network opened the wind farm presentation. He quickly discussed the benefits of the potential wind farm.

“It’s going to bring us the four ‘R’s’ of reliability,” said Carlson. “Were going to get reliable prices because the wind is free, unlike fossil fuels…also reliable supply, there are vast resources of offshore wind…we also have reliable jobs building offshore wind parks, which will supply a lot of jobs here in Maryland and we need those jobs…and finally a reliable climate. We all know heat traffic pollution from fossil fuels is contributing greatly to global warming.”

“If we want a reliable climate and if we want to protect our environment, there is one solution and that is transmitting to clean energy,” Carlson added. “There is one source here in Maryland and right now where we can get the most energy and that is simply offshore winds.”

Dave Blazer, Maryland Project Manager for NRG Bluewater Wind, was in attendance as a presenter.

“Offshore wind is not a demonstrating project. It works,” Blazer said. “Europe has been doing this since 1991. As of today, there are 43 wind parks in 10 different countries.”

Bluewater Wind wants to bring to the United States what has already happened in Europe. He firmly indulged the audience in every reason why there should be a wind farm off Ocean City’s coast.

“From Cape Hatteras, N.C. all the way to Maine, there is great wind,” Blazer said. “We have a shallow outer continental shelf, only 50-100 feet. We can put wind turbines in the ground of the ocean and still get it back into where the demand is. The demand is from Virginia Beach to Boston. We want to put the electricity where the demand is instead of transmitting it hundreds of miles. Here on the East Coast we are 12 miles from being able to plug it into the grid.”

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Chesapeake and Coastal Program’s Catherine McCall went over how the department came to an agreement on the potential area to build the wind farm off Ocean City’s shore. They built a coastal atlas, a web-based mapping tool of the ocean and coastal data for managers and the public developed by the DNR.

“Since February, what we’ve done is worked to launch the tool such as our coastal atlas,” McCall explained. “We preview it with a number of different advisory committees. We have worked with a lot of fishery advisory committees and have had one-on-one meeting with a number of folks to get more information on how they are using the ocean and allowed them to voice their concerns.”

McCall pointed out that our ocean is a busy place. She covered many points, such as how the sand is mined from the ocean to replenish our beaches, artificial reefs are created to provide fishing opportunities and habitats, water birds and marine mammals feed and migrate along the Atlantic coast to ships use of shipping lanes to move cargo. Taking all of this into consideration, there was careful planning in mapping out a potential site for the wind farm.

“Really our main goals we have is we wanted to provide the opportunity for public and target user groups to get involved,” McCall said. “Provide an opportunity for folks to tell us what their concerns were to help us identify areas were they are using so we can minimize conflicts and help facilitate compatible uses.”

The DNR of Maryland used different methods to collect fishery and human input, such as one-on-one interviews, mapping mailers and user group mapping meetings.

“We wanted to collect all this data and talk to people and find out where they’re using,” McCall said. “Getting back to the idea that there are many different uses and offshore wind could be one.”

Once collecting a wide variety of data and input, the department started to focus on the northern section of the area off of Ocean City’s shoreline.

“Through the task force, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other partners with additional guidance all weighed in,” McCall said. “So that is how we ended up with a more northern area.”

Andrew Gohn, Clean Energy Program Manager for Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), presented on Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS).

“By 2022, we are looking to get 20 percent of our energy from renewable sources,” Gohn said. “This is a little ambitious. We take a look at what we can develop here in the state and we look at our solar, biomass, and onshore wind capabilities and we think that gives us about 30 percent of where we need to go.”

According to the MEA, the installation of all deployable onshore renewable will only allow us to reach 30 percent of our 2022 RPS target.

“Now we can import renewable energy,” Gohn points out. “We can buy renewable energy credits from the Midwest wind farms and other sources but then we loose out on other benefits.”

An installation of one gigawatt of offshore wind power would allow the reduction of renewable energy credits (REC) and reduce vulnerability to imported REC costs.

“It makes sense to have a plan to reduce our vulnerability to volatility in that market as well as achieving all the benefits of producing renewable energy here,” Gohn said. “There is no current offshore wind in North America.”

With no current manufacturing and development infrastructure in place on the East Coast, early establishment of manufacturing and training facilities could have a major impact on regional employment.

“It will take 500 people to build the offshore wind park,” Blazer said. “It’s about a $1.6 billion investment. After it is built, there will be 60-80 and maybe even 100 maintenance jobs for the lifetime of the contract. The construction jobs will be two to three years. There could be 1,000-6,000 jobs created from indirect economic development and job creation.”

In August of 2010, the Maryland Offshore Wind and Federal Task Force offered its final recommendations to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

“We set up a state federal task force to work with,” Gohn explained. “We basically got our state and federal agencies, as well as the elected officials of the local community, into a process where we can coordinate on things like mapping and spatial planning. Ultimately, to make a recommendation to BOEM because they’re the ones that owns the water. Anything three miles offshore is federal territory.”

The proposed leasing area is currently being reviewed by BOEM.

“We can’t officially share it yet because BOEM hasn’t signed off on it yet,” Gohn said of the proposed leasing area.

The MEA states that once BOEM has approved the area then a determination of competitive interest process will begin. The government and MEA are working on developing a partnership with federal agencies that will result in an aggregated power purchase agreement for one gigawatt of energy generated from offshore wind in the mid-Atlantic. In July, Governor Martin O’Malley and Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote a joint letter to the Obama administration regarding such a partnership.

“We need a 25-year power purchase agreement basically because all of our capital costs are upfront but once we build it there are no costs after that. The wind is free,” Blazer added.

Delaware’s project has moved forward. A power purchase agreement is in place and the state has requested the sign off on the lease of the proposed area to build. Blazer reviewed Delaware’s process so Maryland would know what to expect once the building process began.

“The closest wind turbine is 12 miles off of Rehoboth Beach,” explained Blazer. “We will bring the transmission line back to shore by it being buried below the sea floor. Then it will be brought to the beach by being drilled underneath the sand and it will come up on Route 1. There is a substation so it ties into the grid.”

As far as being able to see transmission lines, it will not happen because they will be buried underneath the ocean’s floor, according to Blazer.

“Our next step is a meteorological tower and getting all the permits for that and for the wind park,” Blazer said. “The tower will have one wind turbine to measure the wind source for a year, so that we know what the wind resources will be 260 feet above sea level.”

As far as Maryland goes, McCall said, “Our next step … we anticipate that the federal government will be publishing a ratified area by the end of October,” McCall said. “We plan to continue outreach and let the folks know at what point they can add their comments to the process.”