A network of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science scientists has formed to evaluate and communicate environmental opportunities and consequences of offshore wind power.
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 8.2% (1,343 MW)1.
- Land-based renewables, such as solar energy and biomass, will only meet about a third of the goal.2 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 was split into North and South lease areas and auctioned for commercial wind energy leasing by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)3 on August 19, 2014. Three companies competed and the provisional winner for both leases is US Wind Inc. at $8,701,098. This bid is the highest of the five commercial offshore wind energy leases off the Atlantic Coast.
“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:
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.
Impact of 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 is likely to 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 University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
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. One of the strategic directions of UMCES is to evaluate and communicate the environmental opportunities and consequences of alternative energy production. Here's a look at our relevant experts.
Helen Bailey, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory — Marine mammal and sea turtle ecology
Walter Boynton, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory — Sediment biogeochemistry and nutrient cycling
Laura Lapham, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory — Gas hydrates, methane cycling, and sediment biogeochemistry
Bailey, H., Brookes, K.L. and Thompson, P.M. (2014) Assessing environmental impacts of offshore wind farms: Lessons learned and recommendations for the future. Aquatic Biosystems, 10: 8.
Sjollema, A. L., Gates, J.E., Hilderbrand, R.H. and Sherwell, J. (2014) Offshore activity of bats along the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Northeastern Naturalist 21: 154-163.
Thompson, P.M., Hastie, G.D., Nedwell, J., Barham, R., Brookes, K.L., Cordes, L.S., Bailey, H. and McLean, N. (2013) Framework for assessing impacts of pile-driving noise from offshore wind farm construction on a harbour seal population. Environmental Impact Review Assessment, 43: 73-85
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.