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Offshore Wind Blows in Virginia; No Breeze Yet in Maryland

Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons
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While Maryland is trying to get its offshore wind program off the ground, the US Department of Energy announced grants last week for offshore wind projects in New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia.

Each will receive up to $47 million federal dollars over the next four years to build cutting edge demonstration projects.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has a map of possible wind energy areas along the East Coast.

The winning public-private partnerships stem from a pool of seven original applicants that began designing plans back in 2012. None of those bids were from Maryland. Dominion Virginia Power, which won a September 2013 auction for 112,799 acres 24 miles off Virginia Beach, was awarded the Virginia wind project. Company officials said in February the firm plans to bid for offshore wind leases in Maryland later this year.

The General Assembly passed a measure to encourage offshore wind development last year after a bruising two-year-long political battle. The Baltimore Sun reported that under the law, developers could earn subsidies of “up to $1.7 billion over 20 years, paid for by Maryland's residential and commercial electric rate payers through slightly higher bills.” It also requires electricity suppliers to get up to 2.5 percent of their energy from offshore wind.

Since then, Maryland and the federal government have mapped out the optimal location for development, an area of about 80,000 acres along the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). That area was divided into the North Lease and the South Lease. Later this year, an auction will take place, where energy companies will bid on the leases. Because the OCS is in federal water, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is overseeing the bidding process.

There are a lot of different stakeholders who have input: WYPR’s Joel McCord spoke with Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times about the “alphabet soup” of agencies involved.

Despite activity on the federal and state level, offshore wind is still in its initial stages in the United States. The first offshore wind facility was deployed last year in Maine. The University of Maine was awarded $12 million by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to build a prototype to study turbine design. The facility will serve as a model for a separate University of Maine offshore wind project, also funded by DOE.

Land-based wind projects are only slightly ahead of offshore ones. While Fourmile Wind Energy broke ground on a 16-turbine farm in eastern Garrett County last month, the General Assembly passed a bill this session to halt the Great Bay Wind Project in Somerset County. Southern Maryland lawmakers fear the turbines would interfere with radar testing at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, directly across the Chesapeake Bay.

Listen to WYPR's Fraser Smith and Erin Cox of the Baltimore Sun discuss Governor O’Malley’s “tough choice” of whether to sign or veto that bill. The Washington Post reports that, with the deadline rapidly approaching, Governor O’Malley “continues to review the legislation.”