By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Nov. 2, 2023) The wind energy discussion continues in the coastal area, giving residents the opportunity to learn about the plans and impacts and weigh in on the projects with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) during the comment period, which closes on Nov. 20.
Ocean Pines residents had the opportunity to hear from a representative of US Wind, Dave Wilson, who is the Maryland development manager and was formerly the executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. He also chairs the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership.
Wilson made a presentation to the Ocean Pines Board of Directors meeting on Saturday. Public meetings have been held in Ocean City and in Fenwick Island, following US Wind’s release of a draft environmental impact report.
Wilson covered the benefits of wind energy as a power source and generator of jobs and provided assurances that the development and presence of turbines will not negatively affect wildlife.
Wilson provided a map of the proposed layout and distances to shore of the wind projects proposed off the Maryland and Delaware coastline.
Wilson said US Wind has two projects off the coast of Maryland and Delaware that will provide 76 turbines. The closest turbines will be 15 miles off the coast of Ocean City, he said.
Wilson said he is hoping there will be more sites awarded for the rest of the area, which would be about 11 miles offshore. The full lease area allows for 114 turbines.
“Every turbine can supply energy to 5,700 houses. This is a serious amount of energy,” Wilson said.
In total, the full area that can be leased can supply energy for about 28 percent of all the homes in Maryland every day for 25 plus years, Wilson said.
The turbines will be built a mile apart north to south, and eight-tenths of a mile apart east to west, according to Wilson.
There is much concern by local communities about the impact the turbines could have on the view from the local resort towns.
“Folks will be able to see the turbines on dry days in the winter and when the wind is out of the west. In the summer, the turbines should be more readily seen at dusk and dawn. Turbine blades face the wind which is mostly southerly in the summer,” Wilson said.
The top lights on the wind turbines, which are there for safety purposes, will only light up when aircraft pass through a three-mile (nautical miles) buffer zone below 100 feet above the tallest turbine, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The lights turn off once the aircraft leaves the buffer zone.
Wilson relayed that an expert report found that only 144 flights would pass through the US Wind study area per year. The duration of those flights will cause the lights to be on for just over five hours and 46 minutes in any given year, he said.
“Wind turbine top lights will be off 99 percent of the time,” Wilson said.
“Lights at the bottom of the turbines are on for safety, but from shore, you will not be able to see them, which is important for OC and for wildlife.”
Wilson expressed certainty that the impact on the environment and wildlife will be minimized by extensive safety precautions.
“All the science shows that the surveys can be heard by whales but it is not in a range that would harm cetaceans or dolphins,” Wilson said.
“Our main concern is boat strikes. All boats will have protected species observers (PSOs) trained and approved by NOAA to detect protected species like whales, when conducting research at sea.
“The sonar we use will not hurt or harm a whale, but we need to make sure we don’t run into a whale while we are out there,” he said.
US Wind also funds a near real time whale monitoring buoy in the lease area to provide alerts on the presence of baleen whales (North Atlantic right whale, humpback, fin and sei whales).
During construction, pounding in the pilings takes about two hours and one per day is installed. Wilson said there will be a “double bubble curtain” that wraps from the water surface to the ground to help the sound bounce and not travel through the ocean.
“Construction stops if there are whales in the area,” Wilson promised.
There are other ongoing studies in place, including a digital aerial avian survey, to collect seabird information as well as gather data on whales, dolphins, sea turtles and large fish at the surface.
Wilson said he is not worried about birds. Pelagic birds fly low to the water and use structures for nesting, and warblers, vireos, thrashers that fly in mass at night usually fly through at 2000-4000 feet.
Wilson said it has been found that turbines act as artificial reef habitat to hundreds of marine species.
He also assured the audience that there would not be a lot of disturbance on shore. Cables that will lead to four substations to take energy from the turbines will be buried about six meters under the sand. The cables will be laid during the offseason and go through the Indian River Inlet and 3Rs Beach (part of Delaware State Park) to the power station.
“Going through the inlet avoids cutting through forests to get to the power station. No cables will come ashore in Ocean City or Assateague Island,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that the wind project will bring good paying jobs to the region.
He said that Wor-Wic Community College has structured its trade curriculum around wind energy to manufacture turbines and work at the operations and manufacturing facility at Sparrows Point (the old Bethlehem Steel Plant) in Dundalk, Maryland.
The plant will produce monopile foundations, transition pieces, towers, and be a logistics hub for the East Coast.
“This facility will serve the entire U.S. offshore wind market,” Wilson said.
It will take 100 full time and additional part time jobs to maintain the turbines. Wilson said it’s expected that the project will create 5,460 direct jobs and another 1.5 times that in indirect jobs.
Locally, an Ocean City operations and maintenance facility will function 24/7, to maintain the turbines and will provide 100 full-time jobs and additional part-time work. This should be established by 2025.
Wilson said US Wind is getting to the end of the approval process and BOEM will issue another final environmental impact statement and the public will have the chance to comment again.
Currently, there is a public comment period open until Nov. 20. The public can comment and get more information here: http://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/maryland-offshore-wind