OCEAN CITY — With a Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing planned on the height of the proposed wind turbines off the resort coast, Ocean City last week filed a petition seeking to guarantee a seat at the table.
Last month, the PSC released an order opining the proposed dramatic changes in the wind turbine heights for two approved offshore wind projects off the Ocean City coast warranted revisiting and scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 18. Last Monday, the Town of Ocean City filed an official petition to intervene in the hopes it will be deemed an official party of record during the proceedings.
“Ocean City requests that it be permitted to intervene on this proceeding and enjoy all rights of a party,” the petition reads. “The inquiry into the impact of the larger turbines involves issues of paramount importance to the town of Ocean City, as the turbines will be located off the coast of Ocean City. Ocean City will be directly affected by the decision and has a direct interest in the proceeding.”
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.
However, with advancements in technology, the height of the proposed turbines has increased exponentially since the original PSC approval in 2017, prompting Ocean City officials and the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) to request a re-opening of the original approval proceedings. For example, Orsted’s Skipjack project has now committed to using 12-megawatt wind turbines described as the “world’s largest offshore wind turbine.”
For its part, US Wind has not finalized a decision on the turbines proposed for its project, although the company has stated publicly and in written correspondence to the PSC it is considering turbines considerably larger than the four-megawatt units first proposed including, potentially, the same 12-megawatt turbines chosen by the Skipjack project. However, US Wind has also said going with the larger model would allow the company to reduce the number of turbines by half from 64 to 32, which, in turn, would give the company more leeway in the distance the turbines would be constructed from the shoreline.
In the petition to intervene, Ocean City asserts it has an innate sense of the potential impact of the increased turbine sizes on the resort, a position not easily presented by a third party or by the town acting only as a disconnected party.
“The massive increase in the turbine size would profoundly change the Ocean City viewscape and create serious economic, natural and environmental harm to Ocean City and the surrounding environs,” the petition reads. “No other party in this matter can adequately represent Ocean City’s interests or express the impact that the use of supersized turbines will have on its viewscape and economy. Ocean City can provide relevant and material information concerning issues relative to the proceeding.”
Ocean City officials applauded the PSC’s order last month establishing a public hearing on the proposed wind turbine heights. From the beginning, Ocean City has not opposed clean and renewable offshore wind energy projects, but has continually voiced concern about the distance of the proposed turbines from the resort coast and the potential impact on the viewshed, tourism and even property values.
When the larger size of the proposed turbines, resort officials urged the PSC to reopen the two approvals and hold a public hearing, a request that was granted in part and denied in part. The public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center at noon.
It’s important to note the PSC order does recognize the increased size of the proposed turbines for both projects warranted a new public hearing next month. It’s also important to note the original approvals for the two ORECs was based on the “best technology available.”
However, while Ocean City was celebrating the order last week, the PSC cautioned the ensuing public hearing in January will be limited in scope to issues germane to turbine size and the commission would not revisit the original OREC approvals for the two projects. Essentially, the public hearing will revisit the turbine heights proposed when the PSC approved the two projects in 2017, but its scope will not include an overall review of the approvals for the US Wind and Skipjack projects.