(June 6, 2014) As the reality of an offshore wind farm in Ocean City draws nearer, some question whether the change off the coast will alter their beach views.
The answer is a resounding “sometimes,” said Andrew Gohn, senior clean energy program manager for the Maryland Energy Administration.
The closest turbines will spin about 11.5 miles from the shore, with the farthest sitting nearly 30 miles from the city’s coastline, Gohn said.
“While turbines might be visible on a clear day at this distance, on most days they will be obscured by haze,” he said.
Visibility depends on a multitude of factors — the height of the windmills, their exact location and configuration, the curvature of the earth and atmospheric conditions. Even at prime visibility, though, they should appear about the size of a thumbnail on a fully extended arm or a matchstick, Gohn said.
The exact view depends on factors as yet unknown, such as the turbines’ specific locations and heights. No one will know them until after bidding for the offshore Wind Energy Area takes place later this year.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to oversee the bidding for the site, which is likely to be leased as a north zone of 32,737 acres and south zone of 47,970 acres, said BOEM spokesperson Tracy Moriarty.
While a swath that size could harbor more than 100 windmills, cost-support provided by the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 should limit to project to around 40 turbines producing 200 megawatts, Gohn said.
While no one can name the exact height of the turbines, most on-land windmills cap at around 300 feet tall, he said.
Especially considering new data that could point to better wind power at lower heights offshore, “I would expect that we will be that height or below in the offshore environment,” Gohn said.
Decisions about where to place Maryland’s Wind Energy Area date back years to when company Bluewater Wind Maryland LLC began scoping out the potential to raise its own wind farm off Maryland’s coast. It began an aggressive campaign that included community outreach and visualizations of what the offshore farm would look like, Gohn said.
“Based on those visualizations and that community outreach … the mayor, Ocean City council and town engineer all represented that this distance was acceptable to the community,” he said.
A state and federal task force, which included representatives from Ocean City and the Lower Shore’s three counties, also accepted a recommendation by the Maryland Energy Administration and state Department of Natural Resources for the proposed wind farm area location, he said.
With few similar projects in the United States, the Business Network for Maryland Offshore Wind has been looking to Europe for examples of offshore wind farms mirroring the Ocean City project.
“We visited a wind turbine project in Denmark (Anholt Offshore Wind Farm) last November with similar project distance and you absolutely could not see them from the shore,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of BizMDOSW. “There are 25 Marylanders that can attest to that fact.”
Once bidding for the Maryland Wind Energy Area takes place, the winner or winners will submit project-specific plans for construction and operations to BOEM for review and approval.
Officials will evaluate the project’s possible environmental and visual impacts at that time, Moriarity said. Then it will present the findings to the public.
“Public input will be very important to our review process and we will actively solicit such input through
public meetings,” she said. “Visual simulations will be generated, analyzed and provided to the public
as part of the … process.”
She expects those visualizations to account for visibility under different weather conditions and vantage points — from the shoreline versus a second-story oceanfront condo, for example.
“The visibility of any facility would likely decrease in the summer months due to increased haze and precipitation,” Moriarity added, boding well for beachgoers who don’t want to see windmills on their horizons.