OCEAN CITY — A future offshore wind energy farm off the coast of Ocean City inched a little closer to becoming a reality last week when the state Board of Public Works approved a $3.3 million contract for a private firm to conduct a geophysical survey of the proposed site about 10 miles off the coast.
The three-member Board of Public Works, which includes Governor Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, last Wednesday approved the $3.3 million contract for Coastal Planning and Engineering Inc., a private firm that will now conduct a thorough geophysical survey of Maryland’s designated Wind Energy Area (WEA), a vast area 10 miles off the coast of the resort. Coastal Planning and Engineering was the successful bidder in a request for proposal that included three other firms lined up to do the work, and although it wasn’t the lowest bidder, the company offered greater flexibility and experience in working with government contracts.
The data collected will eventually be presented to the federal Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) for approval in advance of any development of offshore wind energy off Ocean City’s coast. BOEM will review and evaluate any future construction and operation plan for compliance with the National Energy Environmental Policy Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and all other applicable federal laws prior to the development of a future wind farm off the coast.
Typically, a private developer would first obtain a lease for the Maryland WEA and then conduct the appropriate research before gaining approval to start building the wind energy farm off Ocean City’s coast. However, because of delays in gaining approval from the General Assembly for the wind farm, and because no private developers have leased the WEA, the state is essentially funding the geophysical survey through its Offshore Wind Development Fund to the tune of $3.3 million. In the requesting agency remarks attached to last week’s agenda, the BPW essentially acknowledges the state will fund the survey which ordinarily would have been paid for by the future developer.
“While no developer has obtained a lease within the Maryland wind energy area at this time, the Offshore Wind Development Fund can continue to advance offshore wind energy by engaging in many of the same data collection activities that a developer would conduct in the development process,” the report reads. “In doing so, the state will establish a broad base of information for developers to quickly and efficiently deploy offshore wind energy systems.”
In simpler terms, the state is forward funding the survey to expedite the development process.
“MEA is implementing a strategy to focus Offshore Wind Development Fund efforts on activities which can reduce uncertainty and delay in development of offshore wind energy generation,” the report reads. “Deployment of wind turbines on the outer continental shelf will require the compilation of considerable amounts of data for review by federal regulatory agencies.”
Meanwhile, the O’Malley administration has already promised to introduce legislation for approval of an offshore wind farm in the current General Assembly session although no bill had been dropped in the hopper in the first two days of the session this week. For each of the last two years, O’Malley has pushed offshore wind legislation during the Assembly session and each time it was passed by the House but never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
Many believe this will be the year the governor gets the legislation through. For example, Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association President David Reel this week addressed the Ocean City Economic Development Committee on issues related to the General Assembly and opined the governor likely has the votes this year.
“Offshore wind affects Ocean City disproportionately, which is why you should be keeping an eye on this,” Reel told the EDC. “They took a Senator off the committee that failed to pass it and that should get it done. Many Republicans will oppose it, but I would not be surprised to see wind power pass this year.”
Reed was referring to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller’s decision to make a change in committee assignments in advance of the opening of the session on Wednesday apparently for the express purpose of rigging the Senate Finance Committee vote to get wind power out of the committee and in front of the entire Senate. Miller has publicly made no bones about the reason for swapping Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-PG), who has opposed offshore wind, out of the Finance Committee and replacing him with a pro-offshore wind Sen. Victor Ramirez. Muse will take Ramirez’s spot on the Judicial Proceedings Committee at least long enough for the Finance Committee to pass the governor’s offshore wind bill.