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Long process ahead for a wind farm; Extensive data must be gathered, energy adviser says  

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to establish an offshore wind farm might be poised to breeze through the General Assembly this year, but it will be at least five years before any turbines are constructed off the coast of Ocean City.

“We’re not going to see turbines tomorrow or any time this year,” said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O’Malley. “This is just a first step in a very long process.”

O’Malley’s proposal would allow an energy company to charge up to an additional $1.50 on each residential customer’s monthly bill and add up to 1.5 percent to commercial customer’s bills, in order to fund the costly process of developing an offshore wind farm.

“You’re probably not going to see charges on next year’s bill, or the year after that, or the year after that,” Guillory said.

The legislation, called the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, provides a process by which the Maryland Public Service Commission can approve the development of a 200-megawatt wind farm in a pre-approved area 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The PSC could only approve such a project if projected costs to the average residential consumer would be $1.50 or less per month.

“Nothing goes up until the windmills go up, which could be many years,” O’Malley said Tuesday in a news conference.

Much of the timeline for getting offshore wind energy onto the grid is dependent on the developers of the project, which have yet to be identified.

“While (Maryland Energy Administration) is working to develop important data through efforts like our geophysical survey this summer, developers are likely to need significant geotechnical and meteorological data to support a constructions and operations plan,” said Abigail Hopper, the governor’s energy adviser, in an email, referring to the $3.3 million survey the Board of Public Works approved earlier this month.

Developers won’t do their own surveys, Hopper said, until they get approval from the Public Service Commission, which likely will not happen until late 2014.

“Developers will need at least two years to collect additional data prior to construction, pushing operations out until late 2017,” Hopper said.

A five-year window is not unexpected, said Nathan Hultman, director of environmental and energy policy programs at the University of Maryland, College Park’s School of Public Policy.

“That’s just how larger infrastructure projects work,” Hultman said. “Anything like roads, bridges or power plants, there’s a long permitting process.”

Offshore wind is far more complicated, Hultman said, because overlapping permits from the federal and state governments have to be squared away before development can take place.

Administration officials estimate that a wind farm could produce enough electricity to power one-third of the homes in Baltimore and half the homes on the Eastern Shore.

The bill also provides $10 million in capital funding for minority businesses that want to get involved in the wind industry, alleviating the fear of some lawmakers that the minority business community would be left out of a developing green-energy industry in the state.

Thus far, 58 delegates have signed on as co-sponsors in the House, and 24 have signed onto the Senate bill.

The legislation is slated to receive a hearing Feb. 5 before the House Economic Matters Committee.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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