ASSATEAGUE – Concerns raised earlier this month about a possible transmission line crossing Assateague and connecting future offshore wind energy turbines to the mainland were allayed somewhat last week when the company said it was not intending to utilize the island.
In each of the last three General Assembly sessions, Gov. Martin O’Malley has pushed legislation that would open the door to the development of a wind farm including as many as 100 turbines off the coast of Ocean City and in each year, state lawmakers have balked at the proposal for a variety of reasons. However, proceeding on a parallel course has been an effort to develop a network of underwater transmission lines off the coast in preparation for a future connection from the turbines to the mainland.
Called the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), the network of underwater transmission lines would provide a superhighway of sorts for moving the energy harnessed by the offshore wind farms to millions of electric service customers throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Spearheaded by Internet giant Google, the investment group in May gained a significant approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior to move forward with the creation of the AWC.
The AWC is currently exploring several options for a landfall for its transmission line along the Maryland coast including one proposal that has the line crossing Assateague. Earlier this month, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program fired off a letter voicing concern about the transmission line crossing over, or more likely under, Assateague, and the Assateague Coastal Trust and Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips followed suit with similar concerns.
Last week, however, AWC Director of Permitting Kris Ohleth responded with a letter addressing in part the local concerns. In the letter, Ohleth explained the company has no desire to land the transmission line at Assateague at this point, but is merely exploring any and all options as part of its due diligence.
“We share your concerns regarding a landfall location at Assateague, and please be assured that it is not our intention to make landfall there,” the letter reads. “Indeed, we are aware of and share the concerns you have expressed.”
In the letter, Ohleth explains there could be legislative barriers to landing the transmission line at Assateague, but the barrier island is included on the list of potential locations as part of the larger evaluation process.
“We are aware of pending state legislative provisions to exclude Assateague as a landfall location for offshore wind transmission,” the letter reads. “Nevertheless, exploring Assateague as an option is a necessary step in the evaluation process that will culminate in the presentation of the most sensible and desirable route for final permitting.”
According to the letter, AWC is committed to siting all components of its project in the most responsible and sensible way, particularly when considering environmental impacts.
“We are in the beginning phases of the federal permitting process,” the letter reads. “That process requires us to explore all route options for our cable. There are multiple options for landfall in the region and we are required to demonstrate adequate consideration of project alternatives including alternative routes.”
According to the letter, the AWC should be considered a partner in the effort to develop offshore wind energy in Maryland and not an adversary.
“The AWC can help make offshore wind a reality by lowering the cost of offshore wind farms, reducing the variability of wind energy and providing a faster path for wind farms to be deployed, and at the same time provide a transmission solution that is the most environmentally sound option,” the letter reads. “We are committed to putting transmission lines underground and not damage environmentally sensitive areas.”