State Legislation Could Triple Offshore Wind Energy Capacity

State Legislation Could Triple Offshore Wind Energy Capacity
Wind turbines are pictured offshore at a distance of 13 miles in an image distributed by the town. Rendering courtesy of Town of Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — While it has been quiet for several months on the issue of offshore wind farms, a pair of bills circulating in the General Assembly could, if approved, essentially triple the capacity of wind energy off Maryland’s shores.

Since the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2017 approved two offshore wind energy projects off the coast of Ocean City, town officials have been in a prolonged battle to have the two approved companies site their wind turbines as far as 26 nautical miles off the coast, or a distance believed to have the turbines not visible from the shoreline.

After considerable debate, one of the approved companies, US Wind, has acquiesced somewhat and agreed to place its turbines no closer than 17 miles from the resort’s coast, while a second project would site its turbines in a range of 17-21 miles offshore, or at the western edge of the state’s designated Wind Energy Area (WEA).

After a prolonged letter-writing and petition campaign carried out by the Town of Ocean City to push the proposed turbines far enough from the resort coastline that they aren’t visible from shore, the two companies have been working through the approval process and conducting preliminary surveys and site work. However, a pair of cross-filed bills in the General Assembly now appear to have the potential to significantly expand offshore wind off Maryland’s coast with an aggressive second phase appropriately titled “Round 2.”

Senate Bill 516 and the companion House Bill 1158, collectively known as the Clean Jobs Act of 2019, if approved, would allow for the expansion of offshore wind energy generated off the Maryland coast to 1,200 megawatts. Currently, the two projects plodding through the approval process would generate under 400 megawatts.

The intent of the legislation is to position Maryland to keep up with the growing offshore wind energy competition on the east coast. When state lawmakers approved the Clean Energy Act of 2013, paving the way for the two approved projects now on the table, the state was considered in front of the burgeoning offshore wind energy market. In the years since, however, other states have approved projects, some of which are up and running and others further along in the approval pipeline.

According to language in the bills, the PSC shall provide additional application periods for consideration of Round 2 offshore wind projects on a graduated scale through 2030.

“The commission shall approve orders to facilitate the financing of qualified offshore wind projects including at least 1,200 megawatts of Round 2 offshore wind projects,” language in the bill reads. “It is on the public interest of the state to facilitate the construction of at least 1,200 megawatts of Round 2 offshore wind projects in order to position the state to take advantage of the economic development benefits of the emerging offshore wind energy.”

US Wind Country Manager Salvo Vitale last week testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee, urging state lawmakers to support the sister bills to essentially triple the capacity for offshore wind off Maryland’s coast.

“This transformational legislation would serve to reassert Maryland’s leadership position in the fast-developing offshore wind energy sector underway in the United States, creating an additional 5,000-7,000 direct jobs, an additional $18 million to be deposited in the Offshore Wind Business Development Fund, approximately $5 billion in new capital expenditures and thousands of tons more of carbon emissions reduced or avoided altogether,” said Vitale. “With only 358 megawatts currently available for development here in our state and no further incentive to develop more, Maryland risks ceding its leadership position as other states along the eastern seaboard move aggressively to increase the proportion that offshore wind energy accounts for in their own state renewable energy goals.”

Vitale testified a wide variety of economic incentives have been made available recently to offshore wind development companies in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts and cautioned Maryland was in danger of lagging behind. Proposed projects in those states are already approved for capacities far greater than what Maryland had approved.

“Without question, the primary driver for these supply companies is the offshore wind development capacity, and it all comes down to the question of how many mega- or gigawatts can they rely on,” he said. “Right now, the answer is clear, and Maryland is falling behind.”

In his testimony, Vitale urged state lawmakers to approve the companion Clean Jobs Act of 2019 bills in order to restore Maryland’s leadership in the growing offshore wind energy market.

“The time has come for Maryland to again act boldly,” he said. “We can still capture large sectors of the offshore wind industry. Our world-class assets, expansive port infrastructure, skilled workforce and the potential to develop an even larger skilled workforce, in addition to top research and development universities. Hopefully, Maryland will once again take the lead.”

During a larger discussion at Monday’s Tourism Commission meeting about a presentation last week on seismic testing and offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, commission members this week said it was time to reawaken the awareness of the offshore wind issue.

“We need to let people know what this means to them, not only from a quality of life standpoint, but also from a financial standpoint,” said committee member Michael James. “With the new technology, these turbines can by three times taller than the Carousel. Now, they’re coming back and they want way more.”

Beyond the obvious aesthetic concerns, some on the committee brought up the potential for wind turbines to jam important communications for the vast military presence in the mid-Atlantic region, shipping and even commercial and recreational fishing.

“I thought it was interesting how this can affect sonar and radar for fishing, shipping and even the military,” said Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce CEO and Executive Director Melanie Pursel. “There is a potential for disaster with this.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed it was likely a good time to stoke up the public awareness campaign about a potentially-expanding offshore wind energy presence off the resort coast.

“A lot of people haven’t clued in to the importance of this,” he said. “We have pictures showing them three times taller than the Statue of Liberty.”

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.