Offshore Wind Energy

Off shore windA network of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science scientists has formed to evaluate and communicate environmental opportunities and consequences of offshore wind power. For details contact Dr. Helen Bailey at hbailey@umces.edu.

The Facts and Figures

  • Maryland is committed to getting 20% of the State’s electricity from renewable sources by 2022, but is currently at only about 6% (approximately 700 MW)1.
  • Land-based renewables, such as solar energy and biomass, will only meet 36% of the goal. Offshore wind power can help fill the gap.
  • The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 creates a mechanism to incentivize the development of up to 500 MW of offshore wind capacity, which would power more than half of the homes in Baltimore City.
  • The Act authorizes $1.7 billion in subsidies over the next 20 years for Maryland offshore wind development.
  • A target project of 200 MW would involve the installation of about 40 turbines off the coast of Ocean City to be operational in 4-7 years.
  • An area of 94 square nautical miles (79,706 acres) approximately 10-30 miles off the Maryland coast has been identified as suitable for offshore wind development. This will be auctioned for commercial wind energy leasing by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) later in the year.

Wind Map Off Shore Maryland“Smart from the Start” Initiative

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has identified wind energy areas as part of their “Smart from the Start” initiative to spur the rapid and responsible development of this renewable energy source. Potential wind energy areas were identified as those most suitable for commercial wind energy activities while presenting the fewest environmental and human user conflicts.

BOEM completed an environmental assessment of the commercial wind lease issuance and site assessment activities for the proposed wind energy areas in the Atlantic off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Lease issuance and site assessment activities will include geological surveys and the installation and operation of a meteorological tower and buoys. The environmental assessment concluded that these activities would have no significant impact on the environment. However, if and when a lessee is prepared to propose wind energy generation at the site, it will be required to submit a construction and operation plan and an environmental impact statement would be prepared.

Environmental Concerns of Offshore Wind Energy

Concerns about the impacts of climate change have led to efforts to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. This requires a switch from the production of electricity from fossil fuel combustion to renewable sources. Offshore wind is Maryland’s most abundant natural energy resource and can provide cleaner, homegrown energy. A 500 MW project would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 945,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road.

Although offshore wind power is an important source of renewable energy, there are some concerns about the environmental impacts of offshore wind turbines. These include:

The major concern is the impact of the increased noise on marine life.

  • Noise is produced during the construction and installation of offshore wind farms from increased boat activity in the area and procedures such as pile-driving. The sound levels from pile-driving, when the turbine is hammered to the seabed, are particularly high. This is potentially harmful to marine species and have been of greatest concern to marine mammal species, such as endangered whales.
  • The noise and vibration of construction and operation of the wind turbines can be damaging to fish and other marine species.
  • The effects of noise may be immediately fatal, cause injuries, or result in short or longer term avoidance of the area depending on the frequency and loudness of the sounds.

The impact of the offshore wind turbines on birds and bats.

  • Risk of death from direct collisions with the rotors and the pressure effects of vortices.
  • There is also a risk of displacement from the area causing changes in migration routes and loss of quality habitat.

Disturbance to the seabed.

  • Construction activities at the wind power site and the installation of undersea cables to transmit the energy to shore can have direct effects on the seabed and sediments, which can affect the abundance and diversity of benthic organisms.
  • Disturbance of the seafloor may also increase turbidity, which could affect plankton in the water column.

Careful siting of wind turbines, mitigation strategies, such as the presence of marine mammal observers and a “soft-start” to pile-driving, where hammering starts more softly so the sound slowly increases, and alternative types of foundation that do not require pile-driving can help to reduce these impacts. 

There are also potentially some environmental benefits of offshore wind farms. The turbines may act as “artificial reefs” and increase biological productivity in the vicinity. The presence of hard structures can provide habitat for barnacles, sponges, and other invertebrates. Fishing will be prohibited around the turbines for safety, which may locally increase fish abundance. These processes can consequently result in attracting predators higher up the food chain. 

Understanding and mitigating against environmental impacts requires a baseline knowledge about the distribution and abundance of marine species and their habitats. Maryland Department of Natural Resources are working with the Maryland Energy Administration and BOEM to support baseline ecological studies off the Maryland coast and in the proposed wind energy areas.

Expertise at UMCES 

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has a broad range of expertise and a long history of research in the region that makes it exceptionally qualified for studying the marine environment in the Mid-Atlantic and applying this research to the development of offshore wind energy. it is unique in its comprehensive mission to develop and apply “a predictive ecology” for Maryland through scientific discovery, integration, application and education. it is unusual in its distribution among four laboratories across the state and has an international reputation for the impact of its science. One of the strategic directions of UMCES is to evaluate and communicate the environmental opportunities and consequences of alternative energy production. 

Names

Laboratory

Expertise

Team Leader E-mail

Biology

Edward Gates

David Nelson

Appalachian Laboratory

Bat and ecosystem ecology

egates@umces.edu

Helen Bailey

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

Marine mammal and sea turtle ecology

hbailey@umces.edu

Thomas Miller

David Secor

Hongsheng Bi

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

Fish ecology and fisheries science

miller@umces.edu

Michael Roman

Elizabeth North

Horn Point Laboratory

Plankton ecology, larval transport and benthic food webs

roman@umces.edu

Geochemistry

Walter Boynton

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

Sediment biogeochemistry and nutrient cycling

boynton@umces.edu

Laura Lapham

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

Gas hydrates, methane cycling, and sediment biogeochemistry

lapham@umces.edu

Larry Sanford

Victoria Coles

Cindy Palinkas

Horn Point Laboratory

Sediment transport and chemistry, biogeochemical tracers

lsanford@umces.edu

Physics

William Boicourt

Ming Li

Wen Long

Horn Point Laboratory

Physical oceanography and ocean current models

boicourt@umces.edu

 

Relevant Publications

Thompson, P.M., Hastie, G.D., Nedwell, J., Barham, R., Brookes, K.L., Cordes, L.S., Bailey, H. and McLean, N. (in press) Framework for assessing impacts of pile-driving noise from offshore wind farm construction on a harbour seal population. Environmental Impact Review Assessment.

Bailey, H. (2012) Impacts of wind turbine construction on marine mammals: What can be done? International Sustainable Energy Review, 2012 (1): 34-37.

Bailey, H., Senior, B., Simmons, D., Rusin, J., Picken, G. and Thompson, P.M. (2010) Assessing underwater noise levels during pile-driving at an offshore windfarm and its potential effects on marine mammals. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60: 888-897.

Thompson, P.M., Lusseau, D., Barton, T., Simmons, D., Rusin, J. and Bailey, H. (2010) Assessing the responses of coastal cetaceans to the construction of offshore wind turbines. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60: 1200-1208.

Useful Weblinks

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Smart from the Start Initiative

Maryland Department of Natural Resources – Offshore Wind in Maryland

Business Coalition for Maryland Offshore Wind

American Wind Energy Association

 

1 http://energy.maryland.gov/energy101/index.html