Danish company Ørsted plans on bidding on tracks of offshore areas for future wind farm development off the coasts of Ocean City, Maryland and Ocean City, New Jersey. The only operating wind farm in the United States is run by Ørsted off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. Four of the company’s 5 offshore wind turbines there are not working even when the wind is blowing. They are shut down. Further, the underground cable from Block Island to the mainland needs to be reburied, which was to be accomplished this past spring, but had to be postponed. The added project will cost electric customers more than originally estimated for their offshore wind generation.
President Joe Biden has a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts, or 30,000 megawatts, of offshore wind energy off the east coast by 2030. To reach the Biden administration’s goal of expanding offshore wind development, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is moving quickly to review and approve offshore wind farms in federal waters, identify new ocean areas for wind energy development, and hold lease sales. By 2025, the agency aims to have completed an environmental review of at least 16 offshore wind farm construction and operations plans. Ørsted has several projects in the works, which include those off the coasts of Ocean City, Maryland and Ocean City, New Jersey.
Block Island Offshore Wind Farm
The cable from the Block Island wind farm to the mainland was not buried deep enough, requiring warning flags to be placed on the main swimming beaches on the island, where the cable was becoming exposed. The spring project to rebury the cable was postponed because of engineering problems, and it is unclear what the final cost and solution will be. The last estimate to rebury the cable was $30 million, but that figure was released before new problems were disclosed this spring.
According to National Grid, who owns the cable, the power supply on Block Island is not impacted due to the non-working turbines because electricity is coming via the cable from the mainland. Supposedly the non-functioning turbines were down for “routine maintenance” to repair “stress lines” identified by GE. It is unclear, however, why more than a month of maintenance and repairs could be considered normal. It is a challenge to get information from Ørsted regarding the Block Island turbines because all the phone numbers on its page for media calls are European and located in Denmark.
Ocean City, New Jersey
New Jersey’s political leadership is behind a rapid build-out of wind energy projects off its coast, setting a goal of generating 100 percent of its energy from “clean” (renewable) sources by 2050. But, opposition among citizens groups and even some green energy environmentalists is growing about the pace and scope of the plans. The objections include the unknown effect hundreds or thousands of wind turbines might have on the ocean, fears of higher electric bills as costs are passed onto consumers, and the speed of the undertaking with little understanding of what the consequences might be. In particular, recreational and commercial fishermen have been left out of the planning, much of which is expected to take place in prime fishing grounds. Similar concerns have been voiced by offshore wind opponents in Massachusetts, France and South Korea, as well as other places. A bill passed by the state Legislature and awaiting signature by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy would remove virtually all control from local communities over where and how the power lines come ashore, steamrolling local opposition that is customary for energy projects.
New Jersey has already approved three offshore wind projects off of Ocean City. The first proposals off the Jersey Shore are massive and total over 1.16 million acres — about the size of Grand Canyon National Park, or about 1.5 times as large as Rhode Island. There will be about 285 turbines built for those three projects. New Jersey plans to solicit additional projects every two years until 2028.
According to Ørsted, the first New Jersey project would raise the average residential customer’s bill by $1.46 a month. According to the state, the second project would add another $1.28 to residential bills. Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind’s project would add $2.21 a month to residential bills.
Most of Ocean City’s town council opposes the offshore wind projects due mainly to visual pollution—that the turbines will be visible from the shoreline and ruin pristine ocean views. Developers say the turbines, projected to be about 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) offshore, will be visible on the horizon under clear weather conditions. A residents group wants the turbines moved 35 miles (56 kilometers) offshore so they will be invisible from the shore.
Ocean City, Maryland
Ørsted is planning a second project over six times larger than its Skipjack project off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. In 2017, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) approved two wind energy projects off the coast of Ocean City, including Ørsted’s Skipjack project. The Skipjack project is awaiting approval from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Recently, Ørsted announced it submitted a bid to the PSC to develop Skipjack 2, which would include up to 760 megawatts and would be sited about 20 miles off the coast of the city, located in the same approved Wind Energy Area as the Skipjack 1 project. BOEM designated a wind energy area of about 80,000 acres. Skipjack 1 is planned to be located in the northern section of Maryland’s wind energy area and is slated for about 120 megawatts. According to Ørsted officials, Skipjack 2, if approved, would be sited further east than Skipjack 1, which is proposed about 19.5 miles off the coast.
Similar to Ocean City, New Jersey, the town council of Ocean City, Maryland, has a problem with the proposed distance of the wind turbines from the coast of the resort and the potential impact on the offshore view sheds. The city wants the projects to be located further offshore so as to not obstruct the view from visiting tourists. In its decision to approve the 12-megawatt turbines for the Skipjack 1 project last August, the Maryland PSC acknowledged Ocean City’s concern about the distance from the coast. Ocean City is a coastal town that attracts over eight million tourists per year.
Fishermen’s Concerns and Noise Pollution
Fishermen feel their concerns are not being considered by regulators, ranging from safety issues arising from operating around wind farms to how offshore wind development will alter the ocean environment and affect fish stocks. American fishermen are expecting conflicts that have arisen in Europe, where fishermen are often legally forbidden to operate in the vicinity of wind farms and subsea cables, or have stopped operating in their vicinity by choice due to safety and liability concerns.
Offshore wind farms also raise concerns about anthropogenic noise, which can affect marine life and the industries which rely on them. Noise is generated during every phase of offshore wind projects. Preconstruction includes geosurveys that use high-energy acoustic sources to transmit sound, creating an image of the seafloor. Construction requires a variety of sound-generating activities, including seismic exploration, excavation with explosives, dredging, ship and/or barge operations, and pile driving. Once built, the waters surrounding the lease areas are subjected to noise generated by the turbines. Research suggests some fish can detect this operational noise as far as four to five kilometers away. To what extent these effects will disrupt marine life requires continued research from developers and scientists.
Offshore wind has struggled to take off in the United States due to high costs, regulatory uncertainty and fierce resistance from coastal residents. While the Trump administration had delayed offshore wind projects primarily to assess the concerns of fishermen, the Biden administration is surging forward with Biden’s goal of building 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030. Fishermen feel their concerns are not being addressed as the pace of the decisions accelerates. Without the proper research, the ‘Great Offshore Wind Boom’ of the 2020s may result in the ecological collapse of the ocean realm and the billion-dollar economies it supports.