Once potential developers have had a chance to register their interest, the federal government will have to sort out any competing bids, then begin evaluating the proposed projects more carefully for potential environmental impacts and for the strength of the winds in those locations.
Each project would be reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act, said Andrew Gohn, wind energy expert for the state energy office. That process could take up to two years, by some estimates.
"We want to develop as fast as possible, but want to develop in a responsible way," he said.
Can we see it?
Large commercial offshore wind turbines have generated concerns about their visual impact on tourist-dependent beach communities. State energy spokesman Ian Hines said turbines built 10 nautical miles from shore likely would appear "fingernail-size" from Ocean City's boardwalk on clear, cool days. But the machines would be virtually invisible at that distance in peak summer tourism months, he contended, when humid air makes the horizon hazy.
Nationally, the wind industry, both offshore and land-based, has hit a slowdown, with additions of new electric generating capacity falling earlier this year to its slowest pace since 2007, according to a recent announcement by the American Wind Energy Association.
Gohn acknowledged there has been a "lull" in turbine construction. He attributed it to the recession and low prices for natural gas, but added he believed the slowdown will be short-lived.
"Over the long term, hedging with renewables is still the best strategy for avoiding price shocks from volatile fuel supplies," Gohn said.
When the state on its own publicly solicited expressions of interest in its offshore waters about a year ago, six wind developers and three transmission companies responded, Gohn noted.
NRG Bluewater Wind has previously expressed interest in placing turbines off Maryland's coast.
"We're thrilled,'' said Peter D. Mandelstam, president and founder of Bluewater Wind. He said the Maryland announcement coming on the heels of the Delaware offering indicates to the industry and potential investors that both state and federal governments are serious about developing offshore wind.
Nov. 9 "Request for interest" to be published in Federal Register, inviting developers to submit proposals and the public to comment on any environmental or other concerns.
Jan. 4 (60 days later) Deadline for potential developers to respond and for public to comment.
After Jan. 4 – Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement reviews developer interest and invites more-detailed proposals. If competing bids, agency goes through a months-long, detailed evaluation process.
Environmental reviews would be made before any leases are finalized — a process that could take up to two years.