Offshore wind survey set to begin

The Scarlett Isabella, seen here at dock in Ocean City, was to shove off Monday night for a 30- to 40-day cruise conducting a geophysical survey of the sea floor off Maryland's coast. (Andrew Gohn, Maryland Energy Administration / June 24, 2013)

Maryland's bid to put wind turbines off Ocean City is setting sail.

The Scarlett Isabella, a 130-foot vessel outfitted with sophisticated sonar and seismic gear, is scheduled to shove off from West Ocean City Monday night to begin surveying the Atlantic sea floor 10 to 30 miles off the Maryland coast.

The ship's 30- to 40-day voyage is being underwritten by the state of Maryland. Earlier this year, the state Board of Public Works gave a $3.3 million contract to Coastal Planning & Engineering, a Florida-based marine engineering firm, to conduct a geophysical survey of the "wind energy area" designated off the state's coast by the U.S. Interior Department.

The information gleaned from the mission is intended to help offshore wind developers put together their bids to the federal government for leasing spots off the Maryland coast on which to build massive turbines.

"In a perfect world, a wind energy developer can take the data we’re devleloping here and incorporate that into their development plan," said Andrew Gohn, clean energy program manager for the Maryland Energy Administration.

The survey comes shortly after the Obama administration announced the first lease sale next month for commerical offshore wind projects off Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

A similar lease sale for Maryland's coast is still a ways off. But earlier this year, after three years of debate, state lawmakers approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to give up to $1.7 billion worth of incentives to offshore wind developers.  The state's residential electric customers would subsidize those incentives, by paying up to $1.50 a month if and when turbines get built.