Fed Support Gives Offshore Wind Farm Hopes A Boost

OCEAN CITY – Plans to construct a massive wind farm off the coast of Ocean City got a significant boost this week when the federal government issued both a Request for Interest (RFI) and a map of an offshore wind leasing area in federal waters just off Maryland’s Atlantic coast.

On Monday, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced a significant step forward in the effort to bring offshore wind power generation to Maryland’s coast when it issued an RFI and a map for potential locations, making Maryland on the second state in the nation to reach this point in the approval process. The decision to issue an RFI came after the federal government, which controls the Outer Continental Shelf, accepted the recommendations of the Maryland Offshore Wind Task Force.

Essentially, the announcement this week means the federal government will solicit requests for interest from the private sector for leasing the vast area off the coast of Ocean City identified in the map, which was also issued this week. The western edge, or landward most edge, of the RFI area proposed for wind generation is roughly 10 miles from the Ocean City shoreline, while the eastern edge is approximately 27 miles from the coast.

While the RFI could solicit interest from one or more private sector groups hoping to develop a wind farm off Maryland’s coast, one company, NRG Bluewater Wind, based in New Jersey, has already taken the lead on wind energy development in the mid-Atlantic and has a wind farm up and running off the coast of New Jersey. NRG Bluewater Wind has a project planned in Delaware that further along in the planning and approval process than a tentative plan proposed in Maryland. NRG Bluewater Communications Manager David Gaier said yesterday the announcement in Maryland represents a significant step in the process.

“We’re certainly pleased about it,” he said. “We’re pleased the federal government has issued an RFI and we’re going to respond. We think it shows the mid-Atlantic states and the federal government are serious about supporting and moving forward with offshore wind farms off the mid-Atlantic coast. We’re eager to participate.”

Maryland officials have made offshore wind a priority in the state’s efforts to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, citing the potential for job creation and the abundant wind resources available off its Atlantic Coast. A proposed one gigawatt wind farm off the coast of Ocean City could create as many as 4,000 jobs in manufacturing and construction during a five-year development phase and as many as 800 permanent jobs once the turbines are up and running, according to state estimates.

“Today’s announcement marks another step forward for Maryland’s new economy,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley this week. “By harnessing the outstanding wind resources off of Maryland’s coast, we can create thousands of green collar jobs, reduce harmful air pollution and bring much needed, additional clean energy to Maryland.”

Gaier agreed the potential economic impacts are equal to or greater than the obvious environmental and energy independence benefits.

“This is essentially creating a new industry and creating a lot of new jobs,” he said. “From the manufacturing of components, to the construction and installation of turbines to operating and maintaining the wind farm, you can see how this will create a lot of new jobs.”

Gaier said the proposed project will likely come with a hefty up front price tag, but the economic and environmental benefits will likely outweigh the initial expense.

“One thing to keep in mind is, while this is an expensive project, once it’s up and running it will provide a stable and reliable fuel source,” he said. “These things have a life expectancy of 25 years or more and are not subject to the price fluctuations associated with fossil fuels, for example.”

From the beginning, there have been some concerns raised locally about the potential visual impacts of roughly 200 wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City, each of which is expected to be about 250 feet, or 25 stories high. However, NRG Bluewater Wind has assured Ocean City officials people on the beach won’t be able to see the turbines at all on most days and maybe only a small sliver on the horizon on the clearest of winter days.

A University of Maryland study released last month pointed out the potential for conflicts between a significant wind farm off the coast of Ocean City and government and armed services operations off the mid-Atlantic coast, but found any potential overlaps could likely be mitigated.

“Conflict with U.S. military operations occurring in the air or surface space adjacent to Maryland’s coastline including flight-testing, training exercises and munitions deployment is very likely,” the report reads. “This includes both the potential for physical conflict and radar interference as it applies to mobile radar units. However, through collaborative work with specific U.S. military and other users of the mid-Atlantic space, the possibility for reconciling these conflicts exists.”