If the debate during the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing held Tuesday evening had been a prizefight, the referee and judges would likely have called it a draw. Both the pro-wind energy and renewables advocates, and the pro-tourism and those opposed to large-scale wind development off the Atlantic coast were out in force on Sept. 28 to wage a battle for the future of Maryland and Delaware coastlines.
The hearing was labeled “Round Two” of the Year One development options presented by two major wind-power producers, Ørsted North America with its Skipjack program and U.S. Wind Inc., with a first set of projects approved by the State of Maryland, with conditions, in 2017.
Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan urged local residents to weigh-in this week during the PSC’s virtual public hearings on a second set of projects and to write to the PSC to oppose the U.S. Wind and Skipjack wind farms off the Ocean City coastline.
Meehan said the new plans for additional towers and turbines will cause “irreversible” sightline damage and “will destroy the pristine view of the horizon. We only get one chance to get it right,” said Meehan.
PSC Chairman Jason M. Stanek truly served as chairman and referee during the public input session. He talked about electrical-grid modernization, the need for additional distributed energy coming on-stream for this region, and his desire to hear from all sides.
“Pursuant to the Clean Energy Jobs Act” and other state actions, Stanek made sure respondents stayed on-topic.
He reminded participants that the proposed offshore wind development is on the outer Continental Shelf, and while the State of Maryland has oversight, the wind farms will be in federal U.S. waters. However, the site assessments must be approved by the PSC and comply with the national Environmental Policy Act.
Maryland state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38th) spoke first in opposition.
“I am committed to Ocean City’s way of life, and our ocean views,” said the legislator, who represents Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties. “The O.C. way of life may be no more” if the PSC approves these second-round applications.
Carozza said she believes the increased number of turbines — with up to 104 towers requested, some as high as 80 feet tall, with a distance of the U.S. Wind project as close as 13 miles offshore — was more than originally agreed upon.
“Tourism pumps billions into our state economy,” said Carozza. “Why risk these jobs when the turbines could be moved” farther offshore, as other states, including Virginia and North Carolina, have demanded or legislated. She said the turbine blades alone are “larger than the Statue of Liberty.”
Maryland state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-8th) entered a statement for the record, in support of the U.S. Wind project: “The proposed wind farms will power 500,000 homes, benefit the Maryland economy, build turbines which will afford some 500 jobs in the region and create up to $1 billion in economic impact” for DelMarVa.
Evan K. Richards, legislative chief of staff for Klausmeier, who represents Baltimore County, said that passing legislation to approve offshore wind development is one of the senator’s “greatest legislative accomplishments” and urged the PSC to move forward.
Meehan noted that while Ocean City “supports clean energy, the promise should not come at the expense of O.C.” residents. He reminded the PSC — as did the chief of the town’s engineering department — of the original agreements to keep the number of turbines at 12 and the distance from the beach at a minimum of 20 miles.
“Larger turbines were meant to be placed farther offshore,” said the mayor. “This [proposal] affects our viewshed and will contradict the PSC’s own opinion,” first approved in 2017. “Neither of these companies have agreed to a landing point,” for the power cables, he said of U.S. Wind and Ørsted. “While it has been four years since PSC approval, “no wind has been produced.”
Town of Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean also weighed-in, but as an individual, rather than representing the town.
“U.S. Wind promised the 12-megawatt turbines would be farther offshore. People who saw our city renderings of the wind farms were shocked. The O.C. renderings really scared people.”
He reiterated that the developers still have no landfall location, with Ørsted having retracted an initial proposal to land its line connecting wind farm to grid at Fenwick Island State Park after public opposition but now considering sites including the soon-to-be-decommissioned NRG Indian River Power Plant.
“No one can argue that they won’t be seen — both day and night,” added McGean. “These are gigantic turbines well within the viewing.”
Jennifer Aiosa of the Baltimore County Executive’s Office, who serves as chief sustainability officer, disagreed: “We support offshore wind projects, and we need a large-scale project” to meet the energy needs of Baltimore County’s 850,000 residents, he said. “Wind is critical.”
She asked the PSC “How often are we afforded these projects that will make Maryland the leader in offshore wind development? We urge approval of the maximum capacity of offshore wind development for all Marylanders,” said Aiosa.
O.C. mayor calls for citizen action
“The PSC is holding hearings on the proposals from both U.S. Wind and Skipjack with regards to the additional ORECs being offered by the state,” Meehan said. “We would certainly encourage other voices to be heard.”
“The council and I, and many of our citizens, have been very vocal about our concerns about why the turbines have to be 13 miles from our shoreline, while in other states, they’ve taken initiatives to move them back” to more than 20 miles, he said.
Earlier this summer, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan joined a coalition of eight other governors, from Maine down to Virginia, in encouraging increased offshore wind-energy development. It is unlikely legislation seeking to push the turbines farther off the coast of Ocean City would gain much momentum. The U.S. Wind and Skipjack projects are both moving through the state approval process now.
“We aim to collaborate across our states by consulting with each other on permitting challenges, natural resource considerations, identifying opportunities to coordinate schedules, and aligning construction timelines to meet states’ respective clean energy targets,” the governors wrote.
Meehan said, “We encourage all elected officials to show the same level of support for all of the citizens of Maryland, not just Ocean City, and enact the same type of legislation. This is an opportunity to protect our shoreline, protect the view and protect all that we have in Ocean City.”
Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC and US Wind Inc. are proposing to develop projects off the Maryland coast. The proceeding has been docketed as PSC Case No. 9666. In determining whether to award offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs) to any project, the PSC will consider:
- The cost impacts to ratepayers;
- Potential changes to energy marketplace (PJM) prices, including transmission congestion prices and capacity payments;
- Economic, environmental and health benefits to Maryland; and
- Commitments to engaging local, small and diverse businesses.
Written comments may be sent to: Andrew Johnston, Executive Secretary Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.