Nearly a month after hundreds of people filled the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Md., to comment on changes in plans for two wind-farm projects off the Delmarva coast, Maryland’s Public Service Commission has agreed to hold new hearings on the projects.

The hearings will focus on plans to change the height of the wind turbines proposed for two projects, U.S. Wind and Skipjack.

As now proposed, the turbines for the two projects would be 12 megawatts and approximately 850 feet tall, although the increased size would mean that fewer turbines would be needed to produce the same amount of power, according to officials from Orsted, the Danish wind power company developing the Skipjack project. The 12MW turbines would be about 27 percent larger than the previously proposed 8MW turbines.

The notice of the reopening of the hearings, signed on Feb. 13 by Maryland PSC Secretary Andrew Johnston, states that, based on comments from the Jan. 18 hearing in Ocean City, as well as “several hundred” written comments submitted to the commission, “It is appropriate to conduct an evidentiary hearing regarding impacts related to the change in turbine size selected by Skipjack.”

Maryland’s Public Services Commission’s notice also states that the new hearings, which had not been yet scheduled as of Coastal Point press time this week, would be limited to the change in turbine size, and that the commission would not reconsider other topics regarding the wind-farm projects, “including the issue of whether to grant offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs).”

In fact, the Feb. 13 PSC order stipulates that Skipjack officials will provide the Maryland PSC with potential hearing dates once the project has finalized its turbine size proposal and has received approval by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

That federal agency’s review will involve federal, state and local agencies and stakeholders, but the PSC notice states that, despite all of that, the Maryland regulatory agency feels it necessary to hold its own evidentiary hearing to consider the impacts of the change in turbine size by U.S. Wind and Skipjack.

In a letter to Delaware Gov. John Carney, David Stevenson — the director of the Delaware-based Center for Energy & Environmental Policy of the Caesar Rodney Institute (which describes itself as a libertarian think-tank) — suggested the State of Delaware look into “lease swaps,” which could result in the turbines being moved farther offshore than the 19 miles currently planned. Also, according to Stevenson, such a move “would eliminate the need to bring power ashore at Fenwick Island State Park.”

Orsted has proposed bringing power lines from the turbines ashore at the state park, located just outside of Fenwick Island town limits. In return for approval by state officials to build a transmission station on park property, Orsted has offered to provide $18 million in improvements to the park.

“The wisest path for Delaware is to reject the agreement with Orsted and allow Maryland to work out the transmission line issue,” Stevenson said.

University of Delaware Professor Jeremy Firestone, director of the College of Earth, Ocean & Wind’s Center for Research in Wind, sent written comments to the Maryland PSC, in addition to testifying at the January hearing in Ocean City. Firestone — who has authored studies of wind-farm impacts on communities — stated that moving the turbines farther offshore is “neither practical nor economical” at this time.

Firestone has disparaged a study by the University of North Carolina — often quoted by the Caesar Rodney Institute — that concluded that beach communities would lose revenue because of negative opinions of visitors and residents regarding wind farms. Firestone has said the study did not use accurate visual representations of potential wind farms from shore and did not use a large enough sample of beachgoers, among other criticisms.

Carney: Wind power ‘a part of the puzzle’

In an exclusive interview with the Coastal Point last week, Delaware Gov. John Carney said, “I think fundamentally, what it boils down to is ‘What is in it for the state of Delaware?’ And I think everybody needs to remember that that site itself was originally to be the Delaware wind farm — Bluewater Wind.”

Carney said that project had widespread support in Delaware, but “the economics of that proposal kind of fell apart.”

“The simple reality, from a physics perspective, is that most of that electricity is going to light up homes in Delaware,” he said, though Delaware won’t see economic benefits from it, with the exception of the proposed park improvements.

“It could be that there’s a future Delaware wind farm in that area that was originally permitted for Delaware, so we need to figure out if that enters into our decision, and basically whether the benefits are worth having it come ashore” in Fenwick Island State Park, Carney said. “If there’s a possibility of a Delaware wind farm out there in the future, it would make sense to use the same infrastructure,” he added.

Regarding wind power in general, Carney said, “I’m for it! It’s got to be a piece of the puzzle.” Noting that “it’s not a good baseline energy, because the wind doesn’t always blow,” Carney said, however, “the cost is going down.

“I think the Delaware project fell apart because the costs weren’t there, and increasingly cheaper natural gas was driving the cost of electricity down anyway. And that made it noncompetitive. Now it’s becoming more competitive. As it becomes more competitive, we ought to bring it online because it’s carbon-free,” Carney said, noting that the coal-fired power plant in Millsboro is the only one in Delaware that has yet to convert to natural gas.

Staff Reporter Laura Walter contributed to this story.

Staff Reporter

Kerin majored in journalism at Ohio University and has worked as an editor and reporter for monthly, daily and weekly publications in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1983. A native of Baltimore, Md., she has lived in Ocean View since 1996.