Proposed Wind Farm Areas Clear Environmental Hurdle

OCEAN CITY — Plans to develop a vast offshore wind farm off the coast of Ocean City took a significant step forward yesterday with a major announcement about the results of an environmental assessment and the identification of specific areas available for potential leases.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, along with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau on Thursday held a joint press conference in Baltimore to announce a significant development in the process to develop a renewable, offshore wind project off Maryland’s Atlantic coast. Salazar announced the results of an environmental review of the areas off the coast of Ocean City and other areas off the mid-Atlantic coast targeted for offshore wind energy development.

“We’ve completed the environmental review and found there are no significant environmental impacts in developing renewable wind energy off the coast of Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states,” said Salazar. “This announcement clears the way for an expedited development process, and we can now move forward with the leasing process in Maryland and other states.”

In addition, Salazar announced the favorable environmental review has resulted in the identification of specific areas off Maryland’s coast appropriate for offshore wind development projects least likely to conflict with other users of the resources.

“What we have done in Maryland is identify specific areas off the coast that aren’t conflicted,” he said. “We all know the potential for wind energy off our coast is staggering and we’ve now identified areas where there are limited conflicts with other users.”

As a result, from a federal standpoint, the combined announcements, including the environmental review results and the identification of appropriate areas off Maryland’s coast, could signal an expedited schedule for development for the growing list of potential private sector partners in the state, according to Salazar.

“In Maryland, the number of developers interested in offshore wind projects demonstrates the desire to move forward with this now rather than later,” he said. “Our goal is to issue leases in 2012. We’re not going to have to wait several years to do that now. No developer should have to wait 10 years to develop a project off our coasts.”

For his part, O’Malley praised the combined announcements for potentially expediting the development process off Maryland’s coast.

“This announcement is an important step in our efforts to develop our offshore wind potential,” said O’Malley. “We have now identified definite areas with a huge amount of renewable energy potential off our coast.”

Just last week, O’Malley introduced the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012 as part of his larger agenda for the current General Assembly session. The plan calls for the development of a wind farm about 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City with as many as 100 turbines. The governor introduced similar legislation during last year’s session, but the measure was tabled in order to further study the issues surrounding the potential impact on the state’s ratepayers.

In 2008, the General Assembly doubled the state’s renewable portfolio standard, requiring electricity suppliers to purchase 20 percent of the electric power they sell from renewable sources by 2022. As a result, offshore wind energy was identified as an obvious source to meet those goals, but the approval process has met several obstacles. Yesterday’s announcement could help remove some of those obstacles, according to O’Malley.

“The only way to get to our stated renewable energy goals is if we harness our most important source, the tremendous potential for offshore wind energy off the coast of Maryland,” he said. “The energy is there, we have the resources and we need the jobs.”

Meanwhile, Beaudreau yesterday agreed the environmental review results and the identification areas off the coast should expedite the leasing process.

“This is an exciting day for offshore wind,” he said. “A lot of the heavy lifting has been done. The process has been thorough with the identification of these areas and we’ve taken in all of the stakeholders’ views to eliminate potential conflicts. We’re ready to move forward.”

While clearly elated with yesterday’s announcement, O’Malley cautioned there is still much work to be done to bring the project to fruition.

“No one can predict every single step,” he said. “This is a big, important, complicated undertaking. This is the largest renewable energy source in our state.”

Armed with the federal endorsement, O’Malley said he is ready to ramp up his push for legislation in Maryland.

“We need to keep taking deep breaths and move forward one step at a time,” he said. “Each step is important and each step leads to a greater step. We now know which areas off Maryland are available for lease.”