Offshore wind could help Salisbury companies

As plans to harness wind for energy on the Eastern Shore continue, the public will have the opportunity to submit comments at a meeting on Feb 28.

Planned for 6:30 p.m. at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Berlin, the meeting will focus on the meteorological structure that will answer a lot of questions about the project, known as the MET tower.

The tower will be used to “gather real-time data on wind conditions in the area, for use in both design and financial activities,” wind energy proponent and Salisbury engineer Matt Drew said.

US Wind Inc., based in Baltimore, has applied to build the tower about 15 miles east of the Ocean City Inlet.

Drew called the upcoming meeting “an important first step for establishing the Maryland Offshore Wind project, and something that we all need to come out and support.”

The tower is a component of the entire project, but not related to the decision the Maryland Public Service Commission will make about who will be the licensee to construct the wind turbine farm off Ocean City, explained Ernie Colburn, CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The commission will determine that sometime in the spring,” he said this week, adding it’s possible to have “steel in the water,” to begin construction in 2018 or 2019.

Colburn said the project is proceeding “full speed ahead” and has the potential to be “a huge economic boost to the Lower Shore.”

“The opportunity for businesses here to be involved in the manufacturing and distribution of over 8,000 parts that go into each turbine and the opportunity for operating and maintaining them is huge,” Colburn said.

“This is not just for Salisbury or Maryland. This is an East Coast opportunity, too,” he said.

On its Website, US Wind characterizes the project as a $2.5 billion investment and the largest offshore wind farm in the United States.

Plans include installing 187 turbines in 20 to 30 meters of water over 80,000 acres off Ocean City. Energy will be collected at a substation and transmitted to shore through underwater cables.

The project is expected to come online in three years and produce enough power for more than 500,000 Maryland homes.

A longtime proponent of wind energy, Colburn, in late 2015, said the “geographic location and infrastructure here are ideal for this project.”

“We have the roads, running north, south, east, west. We have the railroad that runs north-south with fairly flat land. We, of course, have sea and we have a beautiful airport that can be utilized for executives and bringing in supplies,” he said.

Drew called it a rich opportunity for local companies and it was also endorsed by Katarina Ennerfelt, president of Arcon Welding and Toroid Corporation, a private company that makes electrical transformers.

Neither Drew nor Ennerfelt could be reached for comment.

Also supporting wind energy is Salisbury City Council President Jack Heath, who, this week, called it “sustainable” and said it’s important for the city to get involved early.

Mayor Jake Day has also called for expediency and urged Wor-Wic Community College to train students to make parts that will be needed for turbines.

“I see them as having an important role,” Day has said.

“We have the institutions and geographic proximity to train the future operators and maintainers of offshore wind farms. As we invest in our people, they will have the skills not only for wind energy, but for other industries, as well,” he said.

Colburn, in a Chamber of Commerce publication, once wrote that there are “huge secondary service opportunities for the offshore wind farm off Ocean City.”

“Simply because of geography, Ocean City will be the … operations and maintenance center. For Wicomico County, secondary opportunities exist with the Wicomico River and the Port of Salisbury. A staging area for the construction of both offshore and land-based props for the turbines. Also barging in cable on the river to the Port of Salisbury where connectors are installed on the ends of this special cable. These cables would then be transported to the construction site and connect between turbines,” he wrote.

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