Gov. Martin O’Malley threw his support yesterday behind a wind farm off the coast of Delaware – a clean energy-generating system that could eventually extend to the waters off Ocean City.
Maryland’s support for the turbines 11 to 12 miles off Rehoboth Beach could be crucial toward launching the United States’ first offshore wind energy project – one that potentially could produce enough power for hundreds of thousands of homes.
O’Malley’s statement of interest in offshore wind power came in response to questions at a news conference about his position on President Bush’s decision to lift an executive order prohibiting oil drilling off most of the U.S. coastline, a move that leaves a congressionally imposed ban in place.
The governor rejected Bush’s position in harsh terms – calling the argument that it would help lower fuel prices “patently false” – before volunteering that the proposed project off the Delaware coast is “one offshore effort I would like to go in on.”
While O’Malley did not explicitly endorse wind turbines off the Maryland coast, his comments reflected a willingness to consider such a proposal. His top energy adviser confirmed that building a field of turbines off Ocean City was one of several options under consideration.
O’Malley said he had talked with Delaware’s Lt. Gov. John Carney at a National Governors’ Association conference over the weekend and expressed his willingness to have Maryland participate in the Bluewater Wind project off the Delaware coast.
By encouraging Maryland utilities to purchase electricity generated by offshore turbines, the state could help the project achieve the economies of scale it needs to be viable, officials familiar with the proposal say.
The Bluewater Wind project has been the subject of discussion for years, but the proposed wind farm of about 60 turbines cleared important regulatory and legislative hurdles in Delaware only within the past month.
If it receives federal environmental approval, the project could be up and running by 2012.
Carney, a Democrat who is running for governor, said he sought out O’Malley at the governors meeting to discuss the project. “He was very positive and very excited about the opportunity,” Carney said.
The Delaware official said the wind energy project makes the most sense as a regional endeavor.
“It would be a big deal for both Maryland and Delaware if the folks in Maryland decide to piggyback on our project,” Carney said.
Bluewater Wind representatives briefed Ocean City officials yesterday on the Delaware proposal and the possibility of turbines off the Maryland resort.
“We’re interested, but we’re concerned what the horizon will look like,” Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said afterward.
Proponents of the turbines say the towers would be barely visible from shore.
John Hughes, Delaware’s secretary of natural resources and environmental control, said the Rehoboth Beach project has elicited little opposition from waterfront resort owners or the public.
“We consider the towers and the blades graceful – they are no taller than your thumbnail on a clear day,” Hughes said. “On a muggy summer day, they won’t be visible at all.”
Currently, there are no offshore wind projects in America, but ocean-based turbines are generating electricity in Denmark and England.
Proposals for wind farms off the coast of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts have run into fierce opposition from property owners and vacationers.
Offshore wind turbines can be more expensive to build than those on land, but the wind is often more consistent and stronger at sea, said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for Bluewater Wind and a dozen other wind developers in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration and O’Malley’s point man on the issue, said the Bluewater Wind group has hammered out an agreement with Delmarva Power under which the utility will buy 200 megawatts of power per year at what he called a “very competitive” rate.
By itself, that might not be enough power to make the venture viable over the long term, Woolf said.
But if Maryland utilities were to buy 400 megawatts a year – for a total of 600 – that would bring the project to a level where it could succeed, he said.
Woolf said 600 megawatts equals the amount of electricity needed to power 600,000 homes. He said the advantages of wind power include locking in a long-term price, adding capacity and diversifying sources of supply.
The energy chief said a larger wind project could lower the price per kilowatt. Among the options being considered, he said, are a larger bank of turbines off the Delaware shore and a separate field of turbines off Ocean City.
Representatives of Hoboken, N.J.-based Bluewater Wind met with O’Malley and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources last year to pitch the idea of building 150 turbines, each 40 feet tall and a dozen miles out to sea, off Ocean City at a cost of $1.6 billion.
Woolf said the administration is not endorsing construction off Ocean City but isn’t ruling it out. He said any such project would require study of its possible effects on birds, fish and other marine animals, though he added that Delaware’s studies had found little reason to expect trouble.
Johanna Newman, state director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said Maryland needs to embrace renewable-energy projects such as the offshore wind farm endorsed by O’Malley.
“Clearly, it should go through rigorous environmental review to make sure it doesn’t harm offshore marine habitats, but offshore wind is something the state should be supportive of,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea. Offshore wind has tremendous potential to generate lots of electricity for the state with zero global warming pollution.”
O’Malley’s support for offshore wind power contrasts with his recent decision to block a proposal to build wind farms in state forests in Western Maryland.
That idea drew considerable local opposition because of the impact the turbines would have had on the region’s scenic mountain ridges.
After heavy lobbying by both sides, O’Malley said state forests are not an appropriate place for industrial development.
Better than oil rigs
Kathy Phillips, who works as the coastkeeper for the Assateague Coastal Trust, said environmentalists in the Ocean City area appear willing to give close consideration to the latest proposal – particularly if studies reveal no threat to migratory birds.
“I’d say you’d call us cautiously optimistic that it could work well at producing clean energy,” said Phillips. “I think a lot of people would rather see wind turbines than oil rigs.”
Susan Jones, who heads the Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Association, says many of her 400 members are talking about the wind-powered towers. Some think the contraptions might be a tourist draw.
“The cost of energy is really on the minds of a lot of business people,” she said.
“Maybe it would be something of interest for green tourists who want to see for themselves.”
Sun reporter Chris Guy contributed to this article.
By Michael Dresser and Tom Pelton | Sun reporters
16 July 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding