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Baltimore City

US Wind pledges $11 million for research into effect offshore wind has on marine life

A wind farm developer is funding an $11 million research initiative to measure how wind turbines built in the Atlantic Ocean will affect local and regional marine life.

US Wind, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of Italian renewable energy firm Renexia SpA, is partnering with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to fund three research projects over the next 10 years focused on marine mammals, fish and birds. University scientists will analyze the animals in an 80,000-acre area located 13 miles off the coast of Ocean City that US Wind federally leased to build offshore wind turbines.

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“As US Wind works to develop offshore wind off Maryland’s coast, it’s imperative that we do so responsibly,” Jeff Grybowski, US Wind CEO, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with UMCES on industry-leading environmental research that will enhance protections for marine life as we develop this clean energy resource for the region.”

US Wind is building 22 turbines 17 miles from the shore of Ocean City that is expected to create 270 megawatts of wind energy by 2025, enough to power about 80,000 homes. The wind farm’s second phase of development consists of adding 55 turbines by 2026 to generate more than 800 megawatts. US Wind’s construction is one of several renewable energy projects underway in Maryland as the state strives to transition half of all its energy sources to wind or solar power by 2030, as required by a mandate in the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019.

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US Wind is investing in research by environmental groups to mitigate the potential adverse effects the renewable energy farm could have on marine environments and bird species. Research programs also aid the federal government in understanding what specific analyses must be completed for wind farms to receive approval to install and control offshore wind projects, the company said.

Scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science will begin three projects this year.

One project aimed at monitoring where fish are caught commercially and recreationally will span eight years and evaluate the behavior of black sea bass before, during and after turbines are installed. Black sea bass gather in structures, such as artificial reefs and wrecks. Scientists will monitor if black sea bass make beneficial use of the foundation of wind turbines as a new structure to congregate around. The project will also test black sea bass fishing with ropeless gear, which is an important technology to reduce whale entanglements, according to the environmental science center.

A second project centers on the use of a whale detection system to provide timely alerts when North Atlantic right whales, humpback, fin and sei whales are in the area. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a partner in the 12-month project. Data collection equipment includes specialized quiet mooring technology, whale vocalization detection algorithms, and telecommunication to transmit whale alerts. The study was initially funded by the Maryland Energy Administration and deployed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to collect data on the buoy system.

Another long-term search initiative will study migration patterns of North Atlantic right whales and dolphins in and around US Wind’s 80,000-acre lease area and the potential effects of turbine construction. Researchers, partnered with Cornell University’s Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, will use two different acoustic listening devices to track the occurrence and location of whales and dolphins and to detect tonal echolocation clicks of small cetaceans, such as porpoises. Fish, sharks, rays, turtles and fish that have been implanted with radio transponders will also be monitored for broader research.

“The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) is pleased that offshore wind developers are investing resources to support scientific understanding of the nexus between offshore wind development and the environment, wildlife, ecosystems, and habitats off the coast of Maryland,” Mary Beth Tung, Ph.D., Esq., director of MEA, said in a statement. “US Wind’s investment complements the research initiatives funded by MEA and administered by DNR, which total more than $15 million and have been carried out since 2014.”


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