After weeks of surveying the offshore area and mapping the sea floor, followed by months of interpreting data and polishing a formal report on the project, Paul Rich, director of project development at U.S. Wind, reports the Shearwater survey vessel didn’t find much of anything on the leased site of a proposed wind farm off the coast of Ocean City.
The Shearwater, a 110-foot former Coast Guard cutter, was outfitted to serve as a geophysical acoustic survey vessel and spent weeks examining the site looking for evidence of archeological or biological importance this summer.
According to Rich, the Shearwater found neither.
“The sea bed … was found to be quite benign and basically featureless. Surface sediments in the area are composed of fine to coarse grained sand, with trace amounts of gravel,” Rich said in a release. “Small sand ripples are present throughout the area, with average wavelengths of less than one meter. Sub-surface sediments are dominated by sands, with occasional interlayers of clay and gravel. No natural or man-made hazards were encountered, no shipwrecks were present and no archeological artifacts were found.”
Shearwater discovered this by towing a magnetometer, a device used to locate ferrous metals, and a side-scan sonar to create images of the ocean floor. The two devices are about six feet in length and resemble action-movie torpedoes. They join side-mounted sensors attached to the Shearwater that can scan up to 200 meters on either side of the boat, but will be limited to about 50 to increase resolution.
The Shearwater also carried a hydrophone array to listen for vocalizations of sea mammals, to begin the process of determining the site’s import to marine wildlife before construction affects it.
“We found the results of the survey to be consistent with our expectations, which is most encouraging,” Rich said. “The effort by all stakeholders over several years to properly identify the location and boundaries of the Wind Energy Area have been proven successful in this particular segment of project development. We find these conditions conducive to support standard, industry-proven installation techniques.”
Using these findings, Rich said U.S. Wind will submit a plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is the next phase of the development process, Rich said. This plan is expected to be delivered this month.
“Achieving this milestone will bring us a step closer to actually putting a fixed asset, in the form of a meteorological tower, in the Wind Energy Area for proving the wind regime with an in-situ measuring device,” Rich said.
Italian firm Renexia won the August 2014 auction for the two Maryland sites through its U.S. Wind subsidiary. The sites are located about 15 miles offshore.
The company expects to invest $2.5 billion overall, according to the press release announcing the results of the auction. The zone is estimated to be able to produce between 850 — 1,450 megawatts of power, but the company plans to start with 500, according to the same release.
The turbines are expected to power 300,000 homes.