Feds Seek Maryland Offshore Wind Ideas

Will giant wind turbines soon sprout off the Maryland coast? We’ll soon know a lot more about the possibilities, as a federal request for interest (RFI) period draws to a close.

Maryland and most of the Atlantic coast is thought to be ripe for wind power, and University of Maryland researchers recently agreed with that assessment – with the caveat that actually developing the resource would “require some tough trade-offs, compromise and collaboration between public and private sectors.” In particular, the researchers said connecting to the grid near Ocean City, Md., would cost an estimated 10 times more than at Bethany Beach, Del.

Offshore wind power, Maryland

image via CIER, University of Maryland

With this as a backdrop, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) issued the RFI, which closes Jan. 11, 2011. The agency said if there is no competitive interest in developing the area, it would likely go ahead with a noncompetitive lease process. And that’s a process that could move along swiftly under the Obama administration’s “Smart from the Start” initiative intended to speed offshore wind development. One proposed element of the initiative in particular might apply in the Maryland case: A change in regulations would eliminate a second RFI step in situations where there is only one qualified and interested developer. By doing so, the Interior Department said, wind power developments could go from proposal to reality as much as a year quicker.

We won’t know for sure how many developers are interested in pursuing the possibilities on the Outer Continental Shelf of Maryland until after Jan. 11, but New Jersey-based NRG Bluewater Wind has publicly expressed interest. “The mid-Atlantic states and the federal government are serious about supporting and moving forward with offshore wind farms off the mid-Atlantic coast,” spokesman David Gaier told the Maryland Coast Dispatch. “We’re eager to participate.”

According to the RFI, the area under consideration extends 10 miles off the Ocean City coast on its western edge to 27 miles off the coast on its eastern edge.

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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.