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Offshore wind operations could change face of WOC, state says

(Aug. 23, 2012) The West Ocean City harbor is a major contender among onshore sites being considered to service an offshore wind farm to go up off Ocean City’s coast as early as 2018.

Producing 200-megawatts, the wind farm could bring 160 jobs to the area over the its 20-year lifespan, as well as 850 construction jobs over five years, according to one official.

To begin planning for the project, the Business Network for Maryland Offshore Wind held its first local meeting of stakeholders and potential partners last Friday at the Marlin Club at the harbor.

“You have to start thinking about operations and maintenance today, not when the turbines are in the water, because then it’s too late,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Network for Maryland Offshore Wind. Those two aspects comprise 20 percent of the cost of wind farm projects, she said.

“Operations and management … provides the biggest opportunity for local jobs and putting money into the local economy,” Burdock said.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the offshore wind farm initiative earlier this year, after it died in the Senate Finance committee in 2012. Gov. Martin O’Malley had made it a key piece of his legislative agenda.

Other Atlantic states have the pre-bidding process rolling for offshore wind farm development, but Maryland has “a truly transparent regulatory process,” said Ross Tyler of the Maryland Energy Administration’s Offshore Wind Development Fund.

Maryland’s plan includes things like fixed rates for ORECs — offshore renewable energy credits — of up to $190 per megawatt hour over the next 20 years, Tyler gave in an example.

“We have done what no other state has done, which is create an actual financeable model,” said Abigail Hopper, Director of the Maryland Energy Administration.

The Energy Administration is conducting seafloor surveys to determine which areas are best suited for the turbines, which will be erected at least 10 miles from Ocean City’s shore, in federal waters.

As planning and permitting get under way, likely in the second half of 2014, Hopper said a net benefit test will be part of the evaluation process for winning bidders, meaning developers will need to show how they will create Maryland jobs with their wind farms.

“We are going to Maryland businesses first,” Tyler said.

Still, some at the program were concerned that not enough is being done to draw Ocean City businesses into the project.

“Right now, it’s all state perspective,” said owner and co-founder of Ocean City’s Ultra Solar and Wind Solutions, LLC Michael Panco. “They need to build a local, better team.”

Burdock said the Network for Maryland Offshore Wind is meeting with businesses they know are interested in the project and encouraged other interested groups to come to them.

Other concerns centered on how staging operations and management in Ocean City could affect tourism, with specific concerns including traffic congestion and the “eyesore” problem.

Most of the heavy-duty equipment assembly will be staged in Baltimore, with the brunt of transport of the parts done by water rather than on the roads, Tyler said.

The turbines will be between 10 and 30 miles out to sea, and might even draw some tourists, Hopper said.

“People are going to come to Ocean City to see our wind farm,” she said.

Bidding for the turbines isn’t expected to start until 2014, with turbines going up in 2018 at the earliest.

To learn more about the Business Network for Maryland Offshore Wind, visit www.bizmdosw.org.

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