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Winds Of Change: Offshore Maryland Wind Farms On The Horizon

OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ) -- As the United Nations climate change conference wraps up in Scotland, countries are being asked to drastically cut back on their emissions by 2030.

By mid-century, the hope is to reach net zero, the point at which greenhouse gases created by humans do not exceed trees' and plants' capacity to remove them from the atmosphere.

One way to do that is by continuing to invest in renewable energy sources. It's something that's happening here in Maryland, with plans to install the state's first offshore wind farm underway.

"It's a resource that's underutilized," said Kim Abplanalp, a Delmarva native who for years has been an outspoken advocate for offshore wind farms. "I've been waiting for this for 25 years, quite frankly."

It appears her years of waiting will soon be over. Baltimore-based US Wind, Inc., has won the rights to place the first wind farm off the coast of Ocean City.

US Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said there are only a couple of offshore turbines in existence off the coast of the United States currently, something his company hopes to change.

"Maryland is really at the leading edge of this brand new industry," Grybowski said.

He said the first phase of the project, known as MarWin, involves building 22 turbines. They're currently in the planning process, but the goal is to start producing power by the end of 2024.

Those turbines would create enough energy to power a couple hundred thousand homes, not just in Ocean City but throughout Maryland. US Wind hopes to fill its 80,000-acre lease area.

"We have enough room offshore for well over 100 turbines," Grybowski said. "All of those turbines would produce the amount of power you would see in a big traditional power plant."

The construction of those turbines would create upwards of 3,000 jobs, Grybowski said.

The goal is to begin construction by the end of 2023. About 17 miles off the coast of Ocean City, a high-tech buoy is gathering information that will influence the turbines' design, locations and construction to minimize the impact on marine life.

"It's measuring the environmental conditions, right? Largely we're talking about wind and waves and sea state," said Ben Cooper, director of marine affairs for US Wind. "(It's) also measuring birds, bats, fish. It's got all kinds of monitors on it to really study the environment."

The project does come with some pushback.

"It's the size and distance from shore that are a concern for the town of Ocean City," Mayor Rick Meehan said.

Meehan said the coastal town welcomes and supports  he benefits of wind energy, but over time, the proposed size of turbines has gotten bigger, while the distance from the shore has remained the same. 

"They're now immense structures, they will be the tallest structures in the state of Maryland," he said. "At 13 miles from our coast, they will dominate the horizon."

Meehan is pushing for the farm to be moved further offshore.

But Cooper says, "I think one of the misconceptions is that we can move it wherever we want and it's not, it's a plot of land on the seafloor, it's on the outer continental shelf, and it's directed by the federal government."

Grybowski acknowledged the turbines will be visible, but he said most of them, someone would have to actively look for them to see them.

For Abplanalp, the wind energy advocate, seeing them on the horizon will be a welcome sight.

"For me, it's about progress, it's about going forward," she said. "We have so much information, we have so much science, we know these things will work."

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