Offshore Wind Public Hearing Planned For Saturday

OCEAN CITY — With the clock ticking on a final decision on the developer of a vast offshore wind energy farm off the coast of Ocean City, the two candidates offer stark differences in size and scale and the local community will have the opportunity to make their preference known with a public hearing on Saturday.

In 2013, after years of debate, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act, paving the way for a future offshore wind farm in an 80,000-acre Wind Energy Area (WEA) as close in a range of 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The WEA off Ocean City’s coast is divided into two distinct lease areas including a southern lease area directly off the coast of Ocean City, and a northern lease area to the northeast of Ocean City more situated off Delaware’s coast.

Two companies have successfully bid on the two different lease areas and their projects are significantly different in size and scale. The rights to the southern lease area are owned by U.S. Wind, based in Baltimore with an Italian-based parent company. The rights to the northern lease area are owned by Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island-based company that has successfully developed the only operating offshore wind farm in the U.S.

In the four years since state lawmakers approved the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act, the two companies have been vying for the rights to develop the state’s offshore wind farm off the coast of Ocean City, and while both adhere to the strict guidelines spelled out in the legislation in terms of the number of turbines, the amount of clean, renewable offshore wind energy developed and the impact on the ratepayers in the state, there projects could not be more different in size and scope.

The U.S. Wind project is taking a “bigger is better” approach with 187 turbines off the coast of the resort ultimately generating 750 megawatts of wind energy. The U.S. Wind project is proposed to be done in phases, with the first phase to produce 250 megawatts of energy by 2020. The entire project, with an estimated cost of $1 billion, would be completed by 2022. The law sets the highest impact on the state ratepayers at $1.50 per billing period and the U.S. Wind project would go right up to that threshold at an estimated $1.49.

By contrast, Deepwater Wind proposed a project of a much smaller scale. Deepwater Wind’s project, further up the shore and situated more off the coast of Delaware, calls for just 15 turbines in the first phase generating about 120 megawatts. The plan calls for an additional 130 megawatts in the future, bringing the total to 250 megawatts. Deepwater Wind’s project would cost around $720 million and would result in a 34-cent impact on state ratepayers.

For the last two weeks, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has been carefully vetting the two proposals with a series of evidentiary hearings. The PSC has set a deadline of May 17 to choose between the two options on the table, approve one or the other, or ostensibly approve neither, although that seems unlikely.

The public has been engaged in the process since the beginning and the PSC is continuing that with two public hearings set in different areas of the state in the next week. The first is set for tomorrow, Saturday, March 25, at Stephen Decatur Middle School beginning at noon. The second is set for next Thursday in Annapolis. At Saturday’s public hearing at Stephen Decatur Middle, representatives from both companies are expected to make their pitch for their respective projects.

The two options are vastly different and the local community will have the opportunity to weigh in on the pros and cons of both, particularly since the project area is right in the resort’s backyard. Deepwater Wind officials believe their smaller scale project is right-sized for Maryland, and perhaps more importantly, the local community.

“We’re bringing down the cost of American offshore wind energy in a big way,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski. “Ratepayers in Maryland will benefit from energy that is both clean and affordable. The Skipjack Wind Farm is the right clean energy solution for Maryland and we’re ready to get to work.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Wind appears to be promoting a “go big or stay home” approach with its much larger project.

“We welcome the competition, but we feel our proposal is superior in every way,” said U.S. Wind Director of Project Development Paul Rich. “Our Maryland project will create an industry for offshore wind in Maryland. We have a quicker timeline and our project will provide more clean energy for the state, construct more wind turbines, create more local steel manufacturing and fabrication jobs, generate more economic benefits and provide the best deal for Maryland ratepayers.”

The PSC will likely make their decision by May 17. In either case, both projects would help the state reach its stated goal of generating one quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Both would also create thousands of jobs during the development process and after.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.