Practical work on offshore wind farm begins with survey

(June 12, 2015) Before the turbines can begin turning on the 80,000 acres slated for offshore wind farms in Maryland, U.S. Wind, the U.S. subsidiary of Italian renewable energy company Renexia, will need to survey the ocean floor to determine the best places to install them.

Renexia won the August 2014 auction for the two Maryland sites, located about 15 miles offshore, with a bid of $8.7 million. The company expects to invest $2.5 billion overall on the project, according to the press release announcing the results of the auction. The zone is estimated to be able to produce between 850 to 1,450 megawatts of power, but the company plans to start with 500, according to the same release.

The turbines are expected to power 300,000 homes.

The Shearwater, a 110-foot former Coast Guard vessel, has been outfitted by U.S. Wind to serve as a geophysical acoustic survey vessel, Bill Wall, technical operations director of U.S. Wind, said.

Early last week the Shearwater had been delayed in arriving to Ocean City to purchase supplies because of fears the vessel would run aground at the inlet. Commercial fishermen have reported shoaling issues at the inlet have been damaging their boats and forcing them to consider moving their operations elsewhere.

After a delay of about 12 hours, the Shearwater arrived at the Coast Guard Station downtown and took on an estimated $80,000 in food, drinks and other supplies for the dozen or so crew embarking on the survey mission. The Shearwater is expected to remain at sea for three weeks at a time ahead of a second, larger “geotechnical” ship, Wall said.

Once out to the site, Wall explained, the Shearwater would tow a magnetometer, a device used to locate ferrous metals, and a side-scan sonar to image the ocean floor. They are looking for “sites’ archeological or biological” importance, Wall said, meaning shipwrecks or nesting areas, mainly.

The two devices are about six feet long and resemble torpedoes. They join side-mounted sensors attached to the Shearwater that can scan up to 200 meters on either side of the boat, but will be limited to about 50 to increase resolution.

Data from the sensors and towed apparatus are fed back into the boat for interpretation, Wall said, but they have contracted with a local boat, the Sea Tow, to run from the Shearwater back to shore every so often to deliver the collected data back to the home office through an agreement with local web developer D3 Corporation.

The Shearwater also includes a hydrophone array to listen for vocalizations of sea mammals, to begin the process of determining the site’s import to marine wildlife before construction affects it.

“From a historical perspective, I am very proud to say I voted for the bill that makes this possible,” State Sen. Jim Mathias said, “I also made sure the economic impact, the foodstuffs, the fuel etc., of this effort remains on the Eastern Shore.”

Mathias also stressed that there would be no charges to the customer to cover these initial outlays before the turbines begin turning, which is part of the bill allowing the process to continue that was signed into law in 2012.

“I believe in it but I also believe in the studies and diligence that went into it. I’ve been an advocate of renewables, but I wanted to make certain it was right,” he said.

Two instances of that include increasing the setback from the shoreline and ensuring the transmission cables that would carry the generated electricity back to shore wouldn’t affect tourism.

“I’ve accepted that the project is moving forward,” Delegate Mary Beth Carozza said, commenting on the Republican party’s resistance to the project in the past, “I’ve been happy with the updates from the company. It’s clear this is a huge project.”

Carozza said the wind turbine project is on a long timeline, with the expected start date near the end of 2019, and will involve many levels of government, agencies and local businesses.

Indeed, Carozza and Mathias have each held meetings between U.S. Wind and commercial fishermen in the past few weeks to facilitate communications between the two.

“We’re excited for Worcester County residents to have access to the 30-40 jobs this is expected to produce,” Merry Mears, deputy director of economic development said.

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