Private Sector Involvement In Offshore Wind Project Discussed

BERLIN — The Ocean City area could play a big role in the development of offshore wind energy in the United States, according to the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA).
MEA officials were on the Eastern Shore last Friday to meet with business owners, government officials and other interested parties who may want to become involved with the offshore wind industry years before the first turbines even go up.
“There isn’t a single offshore wind turbine in place in the United States, but it’s not a new industry in Europe and other places in the world,” said MEA representative Ross Tyler.
Maryland could be among the first states to throw its hat in the ring. Bill Badger, director of Economic Development for Worcester County, noted that the east coast is much better suited to host offshore wind farms compared to the west coast of the country, due to a shallower continental shelf on the Atlantic side. So far, Maryland and Massachusetts are most noticeably angling to enter the field, with a potential 200 megawatt, $100 million offshore installation being considered 10 miles off Ocean City’s coast.
Due to its seasonal nature, Worcester has a high average unemployment rate. The offshore wind project could mean in the neighborhood of 850 short-term construction jobs and 160 long-term maintenance positions, according to Badger.
Ocean City has some significant opportunities to get in early, said Abbey Hopper, director of MEA.
“We are going to make this happen. I have no doubt,” she said.
Hopper is the chief energy advisor to Governor Martin O’Malley and told the gathered Worcester business leaders and officials that the state’s current administration is in favor of exploring renewable energy like solar and wind. But it can’t be all on the government, she added, which is why bringing private business into the loop is crucial.
“I can’t say enough about the public and private partnerships,” Hopper told the crowd last week.
Worcester’s role in the state effort could mean taking point on things like operations and maintenance for any wind farms established off Maryland’s coast. Operations and maintenance typically account for about a quarter of the cost of an offshore wind farm over its 20- to 25-year lifetime, according to Tyler. For a 5,500-turbine installation over 20 years, this equates to about $3 billion at current prices.
Costs can be minimalized with sound supply chains and by placing operations and maintenance bases as close to the turbines as possible, Tyler continued.
“Proximity of the base for operations and maintenance is very important,” he said. “And I think, certainly from the MEA perspective, we’ve always thought of Ocean City, because of its proximity, as being a good candidate to host operations and maintenance.”
While offshore wind is still a young industry, Worcester County Commissioner Bud Church said that he was interested in the potential for renewable energy in Maryland.
“We want to make sure that Worcester County has the businesses and the industry to support the opportunities that you’re bringing here,” Church told MEA. “We’re here for a dialog that prepares us to meet offshore wind industries that will be blowing off the shore, we hope, in the not too distant future.”
Exactly how distant that future might be was a question that was asked of MEA after its presentation.
“I think the best case scenario is that by 2018 we’ll see wind turbines spinning off of the coast of Ocean City,” said Hopper.
The next step in offshore wind will be a future meeting with the state’s Public Service Commission.