Wicomico economic gains seen from wind partnerships

windmills

As wind energy on the Shore gets closer to reality, interest is building, partnerships are forming and hope is high that economic gain will blow into Wicomico County.

“It has started. This is the beginning,” said Ernie Colburn, president and CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, about harnessing wind as a renewable energy source.

“The ideal scenario is steel in the water in two years,” he said.

It’s important, he said, because it “has the potential to be a huge economic boost to the Lower Shore.”

“This concept is not a Salisbury or Wicomico County or Lower Shore entity, solely. This is being presented as a proposal for us to have offshore wind on the Shore and up and down the Eastern seaboard. With our central geographic location, we’re ideal,” he said.

Last week, he spoke to the Wicomico County Council, calling the county “a central geographic location that will benefit East Coast wind facilities from the south to the north.”

“We have the infrastructure here. 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.

Also at the council meeting was Matt Drew of AWB Engineers, proclaiming rich opportunity for local companies to get involved.  Arcon Welding’s new graduates have the expertise to  assemble turbines, he said, and Chesapeake Shipbuilding can produce the necessary vessels.

He also mentioned Labinal making cable systems, although that company will close late next year.

Katarina Ennerfelt, president of Arcon Welding and Toroid Corporation, a private company that makes electrical transformers, was at the meeting, stressing to council members that wind energy is “going to happen whether we like it or not.”

Shore businesses will have the opportunity to develop it as a new industry, she said, asking, “How many times in a lifetime do we get that opportunity?”

Colburn said there has been discussion with a European company that specializes in metallization, or prevention of corrosion.

“We really need Maryland to get 100 percent behind this,” he said. It’s likely to be discussed at the Chamber’s Annual Economic Forecast and Eastern Shore Delegation Forum on Dec. 17 at Wor-Wic Community College.

“At noon we will have the annual delegation luncheon where all delegates will sit up front and we’ll query them on certain issues,” he said.

County Council President John Cannon told the Independent Colburn’s presentation was strictly informational. The Council took no position because that would be premature, although the council is, of course, in favor of any project that would economically benefit the county, Cannon said.

“A lot of this depends on state support. We’d be competing with Worcester County and with Baltimore. It’s just informational right now. It doesn’t require council support. The key is going to be, being able to coordinate efforts with Wor-Wic and other companies,” Cannon said.

In the Salisbury Chamber newsletter, Colburn wrote that Chamber members have been working with Lower Shore Wind Partners for several years, “prepping for steel in the water at some date.”

“There are huge secondary service opportunities for the off-shore 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 off-shore 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.

At an international partnering forum in Baltimore, Sparrows Point would be “promoting for a piece of the action,” he wrote.

“Ocean City doesn’t need to promote itself simply because of geography. The construction-wind turbine field is directly offshore and West Ocean City would be the location of the O&M Center. Now, in the case of Wicomico County, we’re at the crossroads …. time to ‘fish or cut bait’ as they say,” he wrote.

“Do we put our hat in the ring for the potential of secondary economic opportunities or take the wait-and-see attitude? No one knows for sure if or when there will be steel in the water construction. Some blow this off while others step up and attempt to seize the moment. Should be interesting the next couple of weeks to see who steps up. As the saying goes, ‘We don’t have enough time to do everything, only enough time to do what matters’ and this maybe one of those times,” Colburn wrote.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day is enthused by the idea of wind power, and doesn’t want to see any delay in getting started.

“It is important that we act early to give ourselves a competitive advantage,” the mayor said. He’s pleased, he added, that Wor-Wic has gotten involved and is already training students. “I see them as having an important role,” he told the Independent this week.

“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,” Day said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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