Maryland’s Offshore Wind Power Potential

February 2010 / Abell Reports / Community Development, Environment

A report sponsored by The Abell Foundation and prepared by the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration, College of Earth, Ocean and Environment.

The United States relies heavily on fossil and nuclear fuels to generate electricity. Renewable energy has become an increasingly attractive alternative to them, given concerns over climate change, difficulty in siting nuclear power plants, health concerns associated with fossil fuel generation, a desire to tap domestic energy resources, and the recognition that green energy development is likely to attract and sustain green jobs. Many states, including Maryland, explicitly encourage renewable energy generation through renewable portfolio standards, which require utilities to acquire a certain percentage of their electric supply from renewable energy sources.

Although only a small fraction of total U.S. electricity is generated from renewable energy sources, in recent years wind power has comprised the second largest fraction of newly installed power, behind natural gas. Wind power has emerged as the renewable energy source of choice in many parts of the country because it is the only proven means to generate utility‐scale carbon‐free energy in a cost‐competitive manner. To date, all of the U.S. wind energy power has been land‐based, with much of the generation coming in Texas, California and the Midwest and Great Plains States.

While Maryland will soon be generating land‐based wind power, its land‐based wind resources are limited (AWS Truewind). For wind power to become a significant fraction of Maryland’s electricity supply, it will either need to import land‐based wind power from other states and to rely on transmission lines, or look to the sea. Offshore wind power holds much promise for the mid‐Atlantic and Northeast states, including Maryland, because it is an abundant resource, proximate to electric load centers (Kempton, et al 2007).

Although no offshore wind turbines have been installed in the Americas, offshore wind power is a proven technology with more than 15 years of operating experience in Europe. Serious interest in offshore wind power in the United States began in 2001 with a proposal for an offshore wind project in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod, Massachusetts Energy Management, Inc. (aka, Cape Wind). Since that time, many proposals have been put forward in the Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes regions. State Request for Proposals (RFPs) have resulted in binding contracts for offshore wind power in Delaware and Rhode Island, a planned purchase by Maryland for a portion of the power to be generated by the Delaware project, and three proposed developments off of New Jersey. Recently, New York released an RFP for a utility‐scale offshore wind project in the Great Lakes (NYPA 2009) and North Carolina announced a small test project of up to three turbines in Pamlico Sound. These states have been at the vanguard of U.S. offshore wind development, but by no means round out the number of states interested in offshore wind. On the Atlantic coast, Maine, Virginia, and Georgia all have varying degrees of interest in offshore wind. Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin in the Great Lakes region (as well as Ontario) and Texas in the Gulf are also planning and preparing for offshore wind. With over 2,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power in various stages of project development, a federal legal regime and policies to encourage renewable energy development in place, the U.S. offshore wind industry is poised to take off.

Detailed resource and feasibility assessments are an important preliminary step that interested states should consider before pursuing further stages of project and economic development. This study represents an initial assessment of the wind resource of the Maryland coast, using methods refined from those published by Dhanju and colleagues (2008). This study considers potential environmental, user, and nautical conflicts, and electric system characteristics and policy in Maryland as they relate to the potential for offshore wind power development.