Researchers were surprised to learn that when seabirds spent their winters in the mid-Atlantic, they mostly clustered in the Chesapeake and Delaware bays and ventured off the coast less often, Spiegel said.
David Bigger, an environmental protection specialist in the federal bureau's office of renewable energy programs, said the new data helps fill in gaps in understanding how widely the birds travel. Wildlife impact has been a key concern as the country explores turning coastal winds into a source of domestic, renewable energy.
There is currently only one wind farm off the U.S. coast, near Block Island, R.I. But other projects are being planned, including the two off Maryland's coast.
Skipjack Offshore Wind LLC, a subsidiary of the developer behind the Block Island project, is planning to build 15 turbines off the coast by 2022. U.S. Wind, a subsidiary of Italian company Toto Holdings SpA, plans to build 62 turbines by 2020.
U.S. Wind officials could not be reached for comment. Skipjack CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said the research provides "useful new data" as the company's project prepares for "extensive environmental review" that will consider wildlife and other impacts.
"Much global experience demonstrates that a properly sited wind project can be a significant benefit to the environment," Grybowski said.
A Maryland paper mill burns a polluting sludge called black liquor. The state calls it green energy.
The Maryland Public Service Commission in May approved ratepayer subsidies for the projects that would add $1 a month to the average residential electricity bill. The subsidies are allowed under a state program designed to encourage renewable energy development. The offshore wind developers said they considered the ratepayer money key in making the projects financially viable.
But as the wind farm proposals move forward, bird safety is not the only concern. Ocean City officials have hired top Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano to help them lobby the federal government to keep wind turbines as far from shore as possible. Many in the resort town fear they will be eyesores that discourage tourism.
Ocean City officials hope to exert pressure when the time comes for federal regulators to consider permit applications for the wind farms. Harris amended an appropriations bill in July that would prevent the projects from being evaluated unless they are at least 24 miles from shore, several miles farther than proposed for the U.S. Wind project.
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