Maryland Offshore Wind ‘No Slam Dunk’

Wind power generated in federal waters off Maryland’s coast holds great potential for the state — but only if Delaware lends a hand and the U.S. military cooperates, too. Those are key findings of a University of Maryland study that took a hard look at the feasibility of wind turbine development 12 to 40 miles off the Maryland coast.

“Offshore wind is not a slam dunk for Maryland, but the potential remains very strong,” principal investigator Matthias Ruth, a University of Maryland public policy professor and director of the school’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research, said in a press release. “It’s economically feasible and environmentally advantageous, but will require some tough trade-offs, compromise and collaboration between public and private sectors.”

image via CIER, University of Maryland

The study noted that offshore wind-power generation is roaring ahead in Europe, and could definitely help Maryland reach its goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2022. A huge issue, though, is where to connect the offshore installations. Because Delaware’s electric transmission system is more fully developed, the researchers wrote, “connecting to the grid near Ocean City, Md. would cost an estimated 10 times more than at Bethany Beach, Del.” That’s $200 million vs. $20 million.

The other potential fly in the ointment comes in the form of mid-Atlantic radar facilities; the turbines could cause interference, the study said. “Collaboration with the U.S. military and other users could reconcile any conflicts,” the researchers said, “if the parties are willing to compromise.”

As for deep-water vs. shallow-water turbines, the study called that a wash: deep-water turbines are more expensive, but would likely produce more energy; shallow-water placements would be cheaper, but not as productive. In the end, the overall cost per kilowatt would be about the same either way.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.