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Energy & Environment

Feds to Launch Environmental Review of Md. Offshore Wind Energy Project

A boat passes through wind turbines stand at the Arkona offshore wind park in the Baltic off the coast of Sassnitz, Germany. Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images.

In a sign that offshore wind energy production is moving closer to winning approval in Maryland, the federal government announced this week that it will hold three public meetings on one of two proposed wind turbine projects later this month as part of an upcoming environmental review.

This week, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will publish what’s known as a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the construction and operations plan submitted by US Wind, LLC.

The publication of the notice opens a 30-day public comment period through July 8 as part of the process to help BOEM determine the scope of its environmental review. During the comment period, the agency, which has final say over offshore wind projects in federal waters, will hold three virtual public meetings about the proposed project and the approval process on June 21 at 5 p.m., June 23 at 5 p.m., and June 27 at 1 p.m.

Registration for the virtual public meetings and detailed information about the proposed wind energy facility, including how to comment, can be found on BOEM’s website.

“If approved, this project will represent another step forward to creating a robust offshore wind industry here in the United States, all while creating good-paying, family-supporting jobs,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. “We are committed to using the best available science and traditional knowledge to inform our decisions and protect the ocean environment and marine life. We look forward to receiving input from our government partners, ocean users and other stakeholders, which is critical to a successful environmental review process.”

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US Wind holds the lease rights to an area 12 to 27 miles off the coast of Ocean City. Under consideration, according to BOEM, is US Wind’s proposal to build and operate an offshore wind project with a total capacity to deliver between 1,100 and 2,000 megawatts of renewable wind energy to the Delmarva Peninsula, which could power as many as 650,000 homes in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia each year.

The project would include the installation of up to 121 turbines, up to four offshore substation platforms, one meteorological tower and up to four offshore export cable corridors, which are planned to connect to a substation at either 3 R’s Beach or Tower Road in Delaware Seashore State Park in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

On social media, US Wind called the federal government’s announcement of an environmental review “a significant milestone.”

“We’re thrilled for this exciting new phase in developing offshore wind projects that work for everyone,” the company said.

In the first phase of the lengthy approval process, US Wind was awarded Offshore Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs) by the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2017 for the first 270-megawatt phase of its lease area. Company executives hope to bring that phase, called MarWin, online in 2024. Last December, the PSC awarded ORECs to the second phase of US Wind’s proposal, the 808-megawatt Momentum Wind project, which is targeted to be operational before the end of 2026.

The offshore wind proposals continue to generate controversy in Ocean City, where some elected officials and business leaders fear the sight of wind turbines miles from the shore will be an eyesore and hurt tourism and the real estate market.

But after years of stagnation, offshore wind projects in general are gaining momentum in the U.S. and have become a priority for the Biden administration. And most Maryland officials are increasingly optimistic about their ability to create construction and operations jobs, both on the Eastern Shore and at the Tradepoint Atlantic industrial development in Baltimore County, where turbines are expected to be manufactured and assembled.

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If approved, the development and construction phases of the US Wind project could support as many as 2,679 jobs annually over seven years, the federal government estimated. The Biden administration’s goal is to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030 and create about 80,000 jobs in the industry nationwide.

This is the 10th offshore wind energy construction and operation review initiated by the Interior Department since President Biden took office.

There are already small pilot offshore wind projects operating off the coasts of Rhode Island and Virginia, and larger projects are under construction off Cape Cod in Massachusetts and off the coast of New Jersey. Construction of another project, off the coast of Long Island in New York, has just gotten under way.

Meanwhile, an international offshore wind company, Ørsted, also has won leases from Maryland to build and operate offshore wind farms off the coast of Ocean City, and the company is hoping the federal approval process for those projects takes off soon. The Ørsted proposals, known as Skipjack 1 and Skipjack 2, would be slightly farther from shore than the US Wind developments.

The two companies’ projects have been roughly operating on the same timelines. Like the US Wind projects, Skipjack 1 received approval from the Maryland PSC in 2017, and Skipjack 2 was OK’d last December.

“Ørsted looks forward to building, owning, and operating Skipjack Wind for decades to come, while creating thousands of local offshore wind jobs and delivering clean, domestic energy to nearly 300,000 homes in the region,” Brady Walker, Ørsted’s Mid-Atlantic market manager, said in a statement provided to Maryland Matters on Tuesday.

“Development of Skipjack Wind is fully underway,” Walker said. “In May, Ørsted completed offshore geotechnical and geophysical surveys to provide a comprehensive picture of the sea floor and enable continued development of Skipjack Wind’s proposed offshore cable routes and potential landfall locations. Ørsted continues to have a productive dialogue with BOEM on the project’s permitting schedule and plans to submit Skipjack Wind’s construction and operations plan to BOEM this year.”