Study boosts notion of offshore wind production
Feb 9, 2010 -
McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Timothy B. Wheeler The Baltimore Sun
wind energy can furnish Marylanders with as much as two-thirds of the electricity
they currently use, and if aggressively developed, could turn the state into a
net exporter of power, a new report by the Abell Foundation says.
2,900 wind turbines could be placed using current technology in relatively shallow
Atlantic waters 28 miles to 43 miles off the Maryland coast, according to the
report, which was written by researchers at the University of Delaware's Center
for Carbon-free Power Integration. As many as 12,000 turbines ultimately could
be deployed, the researchers say, as new wind generators are developed that can
operate in deeper ocean waters, including on floating platforms.
is, if Maryland so chooses, a significant opportunity to develop a very robust
offshore wind energy economy and create a new economic and job base in the state,"
said Jeremy Firestone, an associate professor and lead author of the study. Capitalizing
on offshore wind energy also could significantly reduce climate-warming greenhouse
gas emissions and improve overall air quality in the state, he added.
report, commissioned by the Baltimore-based foundation, comes as state and federal
governments press to exploit the energy-generating potential of strong winds that
regularly blow off the nation's coasts.
The Maryland Energy Administration
is seeking expressions of interest from developers for placing turbines off the
state's shoreline, and has received five partial proposals to date.
agency also is working with the Department of Natural Resources and other state
and federal authorities to identify potential environmental impacts, as well as
possible conflicts with shipping and fishing activities.
Ross Tyler, director
of clean energy for the state energy agency, said the Abell report tends to confirm
the state's own analysis of the potential for offshore wind, though the O'Malley
administration is not looking to carpet the ocean with industrial-scale windmills.
"We're not looking to fill every spot out there with wind turbines," Tyler
said, just to put up enough to meet the state's renewable energy goal. Maryland
law calls for getting 20 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources
such as wind and sun by 2022 -- up from about 4.5 percent now.
report acknowledges that the number of turbines that could be potentially installed
might need to be pared back by as much as a third to leave lanes for ships entering
or exiting Delaware Bay and traversing the coast. The Delaware researchers also
suggest keeping the turbines at least nine miles off the coast to limit their
visibility from the resort hotels and boardwalk of Ocean City and from the beach
at Assateague National Seashore. Bluewater Wind, a New Jersey firm, has proposed
putting turbines at least 12 miles off the Delaware and Maryland coasts.
turbines have been generating power offshore in Europe for years, but none has
been placed off the U.S. coast. Plans are moving ahead to lease turbine sites
off several Atlantic states, and Maryland's university system has contracted to
buy 55 megawatts of power from the Delaware offshore facility proposed by Bluewater
Wind. The administration also has asked lawmakers to change Maryland's coastal
protection law so power cables can be strung ashore from turbines off the state's
Firestone said construction of offshore wind farms in Delaware
and Maryland could boost manufacturing and employment in both states. "You may
only get a turbine factory in one state, but there's a very large supply chain
involved and many components."
Land-based wind farms, particularly those
being developed along mountaintops and ridges in the mid-Atlantic, have proven
controversial. Opponents complain they mar mountain vistas, but also that they
pose hazards for migrating bats and birds, and chew up wildlife habitat while
generating at best modest energy. A federal judge recently halted construction
of a West Virginia wind farm out of concern it might harm federally protected
Indiana bats, prompting the developer to pare back the number of wind turbines
to win over opponents.
Offshore wind farms haven't generated the same level
of opposition here yet, though the proposed Capewind project off Cape Cod in Massachusetts
has been stalled by objections from landowners and from Native Americans, who
contend the turbines will despoil traditional offshore burial grounds.
Meadow of the Maryland Conservation Council said his group's members have great
concerns about the potential ecological impacts of large-scale deployment of wind
turbines offshore, which he said have not been adequately studied. He contended
that a few nuclear reactors like the new one proposed at Calvert Cliffs could
generate as much power on just a few acres of land as the 2,900 turbines spread
across 800 square miles of water that the Delaware researchers said could potentially
Firestone acknowledged that large-scale offshore wind might have
ecological impacts and require additional power lines and even power plants to
"Yeah, you're going to kill some birds and, yes, there
are probably some places you don't want to put wind turbines," he said. "But as
a general rule, almost anything else is going to cause more impacts than wind
Gwynne Schultz of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
said her office is still pulling together an ecological profile of the offshore
region and hopes to glean more information. The agency plans to seek public feedback
in a month or two on what it has compiled so far.
Other issues to be resolved
include the likely need to upgrade and expand the electric grid along the shore
to bring the wind-generated power ashore and get it to population centers. Natural
gas-fired powers plants might be needed to stabilize the electricity supplied
on the grid, since wind turbines don't generate much power when breezes die down.
High-tension power lines proposed into central Maryland and under the Chesapeake
Bay and across the Delmarva Peninsula have been held up amid intense opposition.
"If Maryland is really going to use that resource, you would need to build
some kind of transmission," said Willett Kempton, a Delaware professor and director
of its carbon-free energy center. But major upgrades in the grid would not be
needed to handle modest amounts of offshore wind to start, he noted.
impacts deserve more intense scrutiny before turbines start getting installed,
"You will kill some birds," he acknowledged, with the turbines'
massive rotors. But he contended that the impact on birds would be small, especially
compared with other things that kill them. Fish should thrive, though, he said,
because the turbines would serve as artificial "reefs" for swimming creatures.
Monty Hawkins, a party boat captain from Ocean City, shares the view that
turbines probably will help rather than hurt fish populations. But to be sure,
he hopes government biologists will study the ocean waters and bottom more carefully,
especially to safeguard existing colonies of cold-water corals he's seen and filmed
miles off Ocean City.