OCEAN CITY — As the date for rights to Maryland’s Wind Energy Area (WEA) off the coast of Ocean City draws closer, Worcester County is looking forward to working with the winning bidder and is laying the groundwork for helping the first wind farm in the state become a reality.
Obstacles remain, however, and all of the excitement is tempered by a desire to keep county residents comfortable.
Last week it was announced that the WEA auction will take place Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. So far 16 companies have indicated that they will take part, which Bill Badger, director of Economic Development for the county, found reassuring.
“I was encouraged that 16 companies had signed up because you and I can’t just say, ‘hey, I’d be interested in that,’” said Badger. “You have to put up some money and you have to be a qualified company to bid, the more competition the better.”
Before last week, there was always a question, even if only a small one, of whether the auction would be able to get enough serious attention to lead to a wind farm off of Maryland’s coast. Having so many qualified bidders throw their hat in the ring should remove any shadow of doubt about the viability of the project, according to Badger.
As for the actual wind farm, the plan has not changed. The aim is to install 40 to 50 wind turbines about 10 miles off the Maryland coast between Ocean City and the Delaware line. They would be spread across roughly 79,000 acres in two zones. Such a massive undertaking will take years and probably not see blades spinning until at least 2018. More importantly for Worcester, the scope of the project would require a lot of upkeep.
“They’ll need an operations center here. They’ll use the airport from time to time when they need to use helicopters to go out and check the equipment. So they’ll be very positive. These will be full-time jobs here,” Badger said.
The county is prepared to “aggressively reach out” to the winner of next month’s auction to try to establish a partnership. Badger said that it is important to get the most benefit locally but at least equally important is making sure that the process is painless for the area.
There has always been a worry that a wind farm off of Ocean City’s coast could be an eyesore and ruin the view from the beach. Badger doubted that would be an issue. Though the turbines will be huge, they should be distant enough that at most people on the shore might catch a glimpse of a reflection from a blade.
A larger impact could be felt by watercraft, however, and Badger was adamant that the county wants to safeguard boating industries such as sports fishing.
“The one thing we have to protect is the sports fishing business,” he said. “If we crowded out all of the harbor for offshore wind, there would be quite an uproar.”
Additionally, while maintenance on a wind farm would mean a lot of jobs coming into Worcester, the operations side of the project will be monitored closely. A substation in or near Ocean City is a “hot touch button” issue, according to Badger.
“We’ve told the state don’t just assume that’s a walk in the park,” he said.
Assuming that the auction does result in some solid bids and a clear winner, Badger admitted that he’s excited to move forward. It’s not often that the county has a chance to play the site of a billion dollar project, he said, and one that would be the first in Maryland and possibly one of the first in the nation. There are no such wind farms in the US right now but all along the East Coast states are considering similar projects, with some a step or two further than Worcester.