Future of Energy or Future Eyesore?
Offshore wind energy is a relatively new green energy technology for America. Unlike the 25+ offshore wind farms in Europe, the only functioning offshore wind project in the U.S. is in Block Island, Rhode Island. However, the company responsible for the Block Island wind energy project, Deepwater Wind, will soon begin construction on a significantly larger offshore wind project off the Maryland coast.
Construction of the offshore wind farm has been met with sizable pushback in local politics. The wind farm will be located off the coast of Ocean City, one of the state’s biggest tourism destinations and revenue sources. In addition to citing high construction costs, politicians including Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) are opposed to the project because they feel the turbines, visible from the shoreline, will decrease oceanfront property values and tourism appeal.
Unfamiliar with offshore wind power and why the development of Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack Wind Farm is a subject of debate? Let’s recap:
What Is Offshore Wind Power?
Offshore wind power relies on wind turbines to convert wind into energy. The turbines are massive structures that are anchored directly into continental plates, and they must be tall enough to capture wind power above sea level. A grouping of wind turbines, commonly referred to as wind farms, provides a reliable, renewable energy source to coastal cities.
Whereas onshore wind turbines are a relatively common site in America and abroad, offshore turbines are an up-and-coming green energy technology. The benefit to building wind turbines offshore versus onshore is twofold:
1) Offshore wind speeds are generally faster than on land. Even small increases in wind speed can mean a significantly higher rate of energy production. For example, a wind farm can likely yield twice as much energy from a 15-mph wind compared to a 12-mph wind.
2) Typically, offshore wind speeds are steadier than on land and provide a more reliable energy source.
The energy generated by wind power will likely never become a primary energy source, but rather a supplemental form of energy. Currently, other states planning to adopt similar offshore wind plans include Massachusetts and New Jersey.
West Coast cities will likely not construct any wind projects because, compared to the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic waters are significantly shallower. This makes installing wind turbines more affordable.
Pros and Cons of Offshore Wind Farms in Maryland
While almost all parties involved in the debate can agree wind power is a safer, less environmentally harmful renewable energy source than fossil fuels, the main point of contention is whether or not the project is fiscally responsible. Let’s examine some of the biggest arguments both for and against the offshore wind projectin Maryland:
Scale of the Maryland Wind Energy Project
Right now, the only state with an offshore wind energy farm is Rhode Island. That makes the wind project a big deal for Maryland, as the scale is significantly grander than the five-turbine, 30-megawatt capacity of Block Island. Comparatively, Deepwater Wind’s Maryland project, named the Skipjack Wind Farm, is slated to consist of 15 wind turbines with a 120-megawatt capacity.
Such a major project can also have a domino effect on other states. After nine states publicly stated they would continue to meet climate goals under the Paris agreement, even under opposition by President Trump, wind energy projects have become a major consideration. If the wind energy project proves successful, more states may follow suit.
States such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts currently have plans underway to include offshore wind energy in their renewable energy portfolios.
Worth the Cost?
Whether or not the Maryland wind project is worth the cost remains a major subject of debate. Many residents in the area are skeptical the project will deliver economic benefit. It’s estimated that residential customers’ bills will increase approximately $1.40 per month. Although that seems small, when combined with a concurrent 1.4 percent increase expected in business customers’ bills, the total cost is $2 billion over the course of 20 years.
On the other hand, many argue that jobs will be created and local economies will be bolstered. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) argues that the initiative stands to create 5,000 jobs in his district alone, as well as raise more than $70 million in tax revenue. Additionally, the developers will be required to use Baltimore ports for construction. The project will fund $40 million in upgrades to the Tradepoint Atlantic shipyard and require an investment of $76 million in a local Baltimore steel fabrication plant.
Will the Maryland wind project have an effect on Maryland’s booming tourism industry? In 2014, the state brought in over $16.4 billion in visitor spending. Perhaps the biggest draws to Maryland are its beaches and seafront destinations such as Ocean City. Many residents and politicians feel that giant windmills will stick out like a sore thumb when viewing the ocean from Ocean City and similar places. And many in this camp believe both tourism and property values will be hurt once construction begins.
Ruining Natural Beauty of the Maryland Coast?
As stated earlier, there are leaders such as congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.), who oppose the construction, in part, because they believe it will take away from Maryland’s scenic seaside views. Recently, a measure sponsored by Harris – intending to change the construction site of the project – has been approved. This new amendment to the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 requires offshore turbines to be built no closer than 24 nautical miles from Maryland’s shoreline.
Critics of the measure cite that pushing construction farther out to sea increases the overall price of the wind project, as longer cables and taller turbine foundations become necessary. In addition, many speculate that even 11 miles out, the turbines will not be a major focus of visual attention. Whether or not an offshore wind project of this size will be an eyesore so many miles out is yet to be seen.
Ecological ramifications of the project are also largely unclear. Since this will be the first project of its magnitude in the mid-Atlantic, the effect offshore wind farms will have on marine life has not been studied.
The Maryland wind energy project has been a huge subject of debate, but one thing is for certain: It will soon be the largest wind energy farm in the United States. Although the Skipjack Wind Farm will not be completed before 2020, other states may very well follow suit and begin construction on similar offshore wind projects within the next year or so. Whether you’re for or against it, the project is undeniably ambitious and game-changing for the future of renewable energy.