Wind Turbine Size Changes Could Jeopardize Approvals; Agency Seeks PSC Review

Wind Turbine Size Changes Could Jeopardize Approvals; Agency Seeks PSC Review
Orsted’s wind farm project will consist of no more than 15 wind turbines standing at 853 feet – the largest in the world – situated no closer than 19.5 miles from the coast and 26 miles from the Ocean City Pier. Graphic courtesy of Orsted

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City got an unexpected ally in its ongoing battle to push proposed offshore wind turbines back to a distance not visible from shore when a state agency fired off a letter to the approving body urging a review of the original approval process.

In 2017, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) approved two offshore wind energy projects off the coast of Ocean City. Technically, the PSC awarded Offshore Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs) to the two companies seeking to develop wind farms off the coast of the resort including the US Wind project and the Skipjack project. The awarding of ORECs was a necessary first step in what has become a lengthy approval process.

Last week, the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) fired off a letter to the PSC urging the agency to reopen the cases awarding the ORECs to the two projects and reconsider the original approvals. The MEA letter, penned by MEA Director Mary Beth Tung, cites the significantly increasing size of the wind turbines for both projects as reason enough to revisit the original approvals.

From the beginning, Ocean City has been in a prolonged battle to have 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, citing potential impacts on views, tourism and ultimately property values.

Ocean City has made its case against the turbines being visible from the resort’s coast to almost anyone who would listen. Meanwhile, the proposed size of the wind turbines has continued to grow in the years since the initial approval by the PSC.

When the PSC first approved the two offshore wind projects over two years ago, the best available technology called for 4-megawatt turbines. In the many months since, technology has improved to the point the two approved companies are now moving forward with turbines that are double or even triple that size. For example, the Skipjack project is now proposing 12-megawatt turbines described as the “world’s largest offshore wind turbine.”

Meanwhile, while US Wind has not pinned down the final turbine size for its project, company officials earlier this fall said they would likely use 8-megawatt turbines, or double the size of what was first approved by the PSC in 2017. It’s important to note the PSC approval was based on the “best available technology” when the ORECs were awarded and in the years since, technological advances have significantly increased the size of the proposed turbines.

However, the MEA letter to the PSC last week points out the proposed size of the wind turbines has increased substantially since the approvals were first granted.

“The Maryland Energy Administration has noted recent filings by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC and US Wind, Inc. in which Skipjack advises it has selected a 12-megawatt turbine for use in its offshore wind project,” the letter reads. “US Wind noted that while a final decision on turbine selection has not yet been made, a 4-megawatt turbine originally planned is no longer available and, thus, will select a larger turbine.”

For that reason, the MEA is urging the PSC reopen the cases and reconsider the original approvals.

“Coastal communities, including Ocean City, Maryland, have raised concerns that these projects have drastically changed since they were first approved by the Commission in 2017,” the letter reads. “These changes include more powerful turbines- the largest of their kind in the world- and taller towers, which are hundreds of feet taller than what was originally proposed or approved. MEA believes that these changes demand additional review by the Commission to ensure that the facts underlying the original order have not been materially modified.”

During a strategic planning work session this week, City Engineer Terry McGean said the MEA letter at least represents Ocean City’s opposition to the distance of the proposed turbines from the shore are not falling on deaf ears.

“I think we’re making good progress,” he said. “More and more people are starting to question some of these things. The letter from the Maryland Energy Administration is asking the PSC to reopen the case to award ORECs to Skipjack and US Wind because of the substantial changes in size. It’s good to have that state agency in our court.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the MEA letter appears to put some teeth in the city’s argument against the proposed distance of the wind farms from the resort’s coast and the ever-growing size of the turbines.

“We think that’s a major step forward,” he said. “It looks much more positive then it was even six months ago.”

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.