Economist Outlines Offshore Wind Farm Potential

OCEAN CITY — While the potential offshore wind energy farm off the coast of Ocean City is still moving through its approval process, the time is now for the area’s private sector to get ready for the opportunity, an economist told local business leaders and politicians this month.

During an economic summit hosted by Worcester County Economic Development and the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) at the new Performing Arts Center last Wednesday, Dr. Memo Diriker, founding director of Salisbury University’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON), told those assembled a future offshore wind energy farm off the coast of Ocean City is moving closer to reality. Diriker advised local business leaders to begin preparing for the opportunities an offshore wind farm could present in as soon as five years.

“It looks like there should be steel in the water by late 2018 or early 2019,” he said. “It might be delayed somewhat by permitting and political reasons, but the power should be flowing about a year after that.”

In August, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) opened the online auction for the Maryland Wind Energy Area (WEA), two adjacent lease areas totaling 80,000 acres off the coast of Ocean City for the development of a future offshore wind energy farm. The Maryland WEA covers roughly 94 square nautical miles with its western edge roughly 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City and extending about 30 miles out.

The successful bidder was U.S. Wind, Inc., a Texas-based company with ties to a successful offshore wind developer in Italy, which bid on both lease areas with a combined investment of around $8.7 million. The lease agreements are currently going through the approval process with the Maryland Public Service Commission, and there are still many details to work out with the eventual design, where the distribution lines will ultimately come ashore and how the power generated will be distributed across the grid, for example. However, while the finished product is still at least five years out, Diriker advised local business leaders and politicians to stay out in front of the process.

“Only time will tell if it’s going to be courageously successful or folly,” he said. “You don’t know if you don’t take risks. This is not the time to sit down and deliberate.”

Diriker told summit attenders, at least those who remained to hear his presentation, the process to bring an offshore wind farm off the coast of Ocean City is now well underway.

“The lease has been awarded and the clock is ticking,” he said. “Offshore wind is not going away. It’s a global industry already and it’s gaining momentum here.”

Diriker said the wind farm off the coast of the resort has the potential provide an economic shot in the arm of the local economy and the environment on several fronts and urged local leadership to be prepared for it.

“Wind energy is creating opportunities,” he said. “Opportunity to create homegrown energy, a healthy environment, provide price stability and create jobs and improve the economy. U.S. Wind is going to invest $2 billion in the state economy in five years. The poultry contributes $3 billion annually and this represents an opportunity for another $2 billion. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s coming. The jobs associated with offshore wind energy are good jobs.”

The potential wind farm will create an estimated 850 jobs during the lengthy construction phase and as many as 200 well-paying, longer-term jobs once the facility is up and running. Diriker said there will many opportunities for the local private sector to take advantage of the opportunities created.

“The biggest prize locally will be the operation and maintenance of the offshore wind farm,” he said. “It’s in the owner’s best interest to keep costs down and hire locally and keep the infrastructure needed on the ground close to the facility.”

Diriker said the local economy is well situated to take advantage of the opportunities, but must begin preparing soon.

“The time to increase our capabilities locally is now,” he said. “It’s going to be a very complex facility in the middle of the ocean and we don’t have any time to waste. They’re going to need marine contractors, welders, electricians, and mechanics and we have those jobs on land already. We just have to be ready to adapt.”

Diriker also took some time to dismiss some early negative perceptions of the potential wind farm, including the proximity of the turbines to the coast.

“When you get close to them, they are very impressive,” he said. “We won’t be able to see them from the shore except on the clearest of days, and only then as a hazy silhouette.”

He also addressed the perception a potential wind farm will be paid for on the backs of taxpayers and consumers.

“There is a cap on what you and I will have to pay,” he said. “There are good consumer protections built into this.”