OCEAN CITY — Following a five-hour-plus public hearing on the issue last month, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) late last week issued a pair of orders granting evidentiary hearings strictly limited to the potential turbine size of two offshore wind energy projects.
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) last fall to request a re-opening of the original approval proceedings. As a result of that request, the PSC on Jan, 18 held a public hearing on the issue of the increased size of the proposed turbines for both project.
For over five hours, the PSC panel heard from local and state elected officials along countless residents, property owners and other stakeholders throughout the hours-long hearing. In addition, the written comment period was left open for about two weeks following that public hearing during which the PSC received hundreds more comments.
During the hearing in January, the PSC also heard from representatives of US Wind and Orsted, the developer of the Skipjack project, who testified the proposed increases in the size of the turbines represent the “best available technology” on which the original PSC approvals were awarded. When the PSC granted the ORECs to the two projects in 2017, the best available offshore wind technology allowed for turbines with a capacity of around four megawatts.
However, in the years since, technology has advanced to the point significantly larger turbines are now available. For example, Orsted’s Skipjack project has now committed to using 12-megawatt wind turbines described as the “world’s largest offshore wind turbine.” 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.
Late last week, the PSC issued a pair of orders granting evidentiary hearings on the turbine heights. The PSC orders caution the scope of the evidentiary hearings will be limited to the turbine height issue alone.
“Based on the record in this proceeding, including comments by parties and members of the public, the commission finds that it is appropriate to conduct an evidentiary hearing regarding impact related to the change in turbine size selected by US Wind,” the order reads. “The evidentiary hearing is limited to potential impacts related to the change in turbine selection. The commission will not reconsider issues unrelated to that topic, including the issue of whether to grant offshore renewable energy credits (ORECs).”
The PSC order for Orsted’s Skipjack project includes the exact same language with the appropriate wording changes. In terms of the US Wind project, the PSC announced a date for the evidentiary hearing has not been determined.
“In its most recent communication regarding turbine size, U.S. Wind indicated that it has not reached a final determination regarding turbine selection, but that it is considering turbines between eight and 12 megawatts in size,” the order reads. “U.S. Wind has also indicated that BOEM’s review of its project is ongoing. Given the uncertainty regarding final turbine selection, the commission will not schedule a date for evidentiary hearings at this time. Instead, U.S. Wind is directed to file with the commission proposed dates for holding evidentiary hearings to address impacts related to change in turbine size selection.”
Although Orsted has chosen the 12-megawatt turbines for its project, the PSC order last week also stated a date for the proposed evidentiary hearing has not been set.
“In its most recent communication regarding turbine size, Skipjack communicated that it has selected the 12-megawatt General Electric Haliade-X turbines to utilize in its project,” the order reads. “Skipjack has also indicated that BOEM’s review of its project is ongoing. In order to ensure efficient use of administrative resources, the commission will not schedule a date for evidentiary hearings at this time. Instead, once Skipjack has determined that its selection of the turbine for this project is final, it is directed to file with the commission proposed dates for holding evidentiary hearings to address impacts related to change in turbine size selection.”