Monday, September 21, 2009

State Explores Offshore Wind Possibility

State officials are now taking steps to explore the potential for developing wind energy off Maryland’s coast, which could result in inexpensive, clean and renewable energy for hundreds of thousands of homes in the future.

The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) last week asked those in the wind power industry whether they’d be inclined to submit proposals to build a wind park off the state's 31-mile coastline about 12 miles out to sea. Offshore wind power is especially useful in densely populated coastal regions, where demand for energy is high and land availability is low. A 1000 megawatt wind park could provide the amount of energy for more than 200,000 homes statewide year.

In a Sept. 15 statement MEA Director Malcolm Woolf said offshore wind has the potential to supply more renewable energy than any other resource in the region. If Maryland is able to successfully harness these resources in a cost-effective way, he said, the state will be able to satisfy its renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent by the year 2022.

According to the US Energy Department, Maryland has “outstanding” wind resources that compare favorably or better than Midwestern land based wind resources.” MEA’s offshore wind initiative will include outreach to potential offshore wind developers, a technical evaluation of the wind resources off of Maryland’s Atlantic coast and Outer Continental Shelf, and will include community engagement.

“Offshore wind energy offers vast potential to create jobs for our workers and to help stabilize electric costs for our families while also increasing grid stability,” Governor Martin O’Malley said. “As we continue our commitment to promote a Smart, Green and Growing Maryland, the benefits of the clean energy generated from offshore wind may prove to be vital for our state’s energy and environmental future.”

Wind is a renewable resource that can be widely distributed. It’s also an inexpensive and clean form of energy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions when it displaces fossil-fuel-derived electricity. This technology is well established in Europe but is new to the United States and has had a difficult time becoming a reality. Opponents cite the high initial construction costs while others complain that wind farms are eyesores. Advocates agree that the initial price tag can be high, but say the long term savings more than make up for the start-up costs. They add that wind farms are built so far offshore that visual concerns are minimal.

Cape Wind, a 130 turbine project in Nantucket Sound could supply the electricity needs of more than 300,000 homes, but it has been delayed for eight years due to concerns regarding its effects on marine life, tourism and property values. It has been the subject of endless studies, public hearings and reviews by federal, state and local agencies and lawsuits. Its fate now rests with the Department of the Interior and a decision is expected as early as this winter.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources along with the Nature Conservancy will study how birds, bats, fish and marine animals might be affected by turbine use. In the long run, the benefits likely outweigh the risks but proper study of marine mammal, bird and bat migration should take place before plans are finalized. Some species may be impacted, but the need for clean energy to offset climate change will have a much larger impact on birds and marine mammals if nothing is done.

Yes, there are serious aesthetic, economic, and technical questions that must be answered and concerns about the impact on wildlife that must be addressed. If the measure leads to an offshore wind park off our coast it will likely change the energy paradigm in our state for the better.

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