Virtual Offshore Wind Public Hearings Set For Next Week

OCEAN CITY — While resort officials will certainly weigh in on two virtual public hearings slated for next week on expanded offshore wind energy projects off Ocean City’s coast, this week they urged the public to do the same.

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has scheduled two virtual public hearings next week for proposed second phases for two offshore wind energy projects off the coast of the resort. In 2017, the PSC approved two offshore wind energy farm projects off the coast of Ocean City including Ørsted’s Skipjack I project and US Wind’s Marwin project. Technically, the PSC awarded Offshore Renewable Energy Credits, or ORECs, to the two bid award winners.

Those projects are now going through the federal review period with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Buoyed by federal and state calls for an expansion of offshore wind energy, both Ørsted and US Wind have submitted requests for ORECs from the PSC for their second-phase projects, which, if approved, would significantly increase the number of wind turbines sited off the resort coast.

To that end, the PSC has scheduled virtual public hearings for both company’s proposed second-phase projects. The hearings will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 28, and Thursday, Sept. 30, both at 6 p.m. At the close of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan urged local residents to weigh in during the PSC’s virtual public hearings next week. However, the window is getting tight for signing up to speak. Members of the public that wish to participate in the virtual public hearings must send an email by Friday to susan.howard@maryland.gov.

“The PSC is holding hearings on the proposals from both US Wind and Skipjack with regards to the additional ORECs being offered by the state,” he said. “In order to speak at those hearings, and we would certainly encourage other voices to be heard, you need to sign up by Friday.”

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BOEM designated a Wind Energy Area (WEA) off the coast of Ocean City of about 80,000 acres. Both of the second-phase projects would be sited in that WEA. Ørsted’s Skipjack I project would generate 120-megawatts. The proposed Skipjack II would generate 760-megawatts, or would about six times the size of the initial project.

The number of turbines for Skipjack 2 will be dependent on an award from the PSC and the size of the award, according to Ørsted officials, who also said Skipjack 2, if approved, would be sited about 20 miles off the coast of the resort. Skipjack 1 is proposed to be sited about 19.5 miles off the coast, by comparison.

Similarly, US Wind’s Marwin project would include 22 turbines. It’s proposed Momentum Wind project, for which the company has applied to the PSC for more ORECs, would include 82 turbines. The company’s already-approved MarWin project includes 22 turbines sited about 17 miles off the coast of the resort.

Throughout the lengthy approval process for the projects, Ocean City has consistently said it supports offshore wind, but want the turbines sited far enough off the coast that they aren’t visible from the shoreline. The concern is massive turbines visible from the shoreline could impact tourism and the local economy.

Meehan said on Monday other states in which offshore wind energy projects are in various stages of the approval process have taken initiatives to ensure the turbines are significantly farther offshore than the projects planned in Maryland.

“The Mayor and Council and many of our citizens have been very vocal about their concerns about why the turbines have to be 13 miles from our shoreline, while in other states, they’ve taken initiatives to move them back,” he said. “In New York, they have passed legislation to move the turbines at last 20 miles from the shoreline. In Virginia Beach, they’re 27 miles from the coast and North Carolina, they are 30 miles from the shoreline.”

Meehan urged state and local lawmakers to consider similar legislation, but it could be an uphill battle. Earlier this summer, Governor Larry Hogan joined a coalition of other governors from up and down the east coast in encouraging increased offshore wind energy development and its uncertain if legislation seeking to push the turbines farther off the coast of Ocean City would gain much traction. In addition, the US Wind and Skipjack projects are both moving through the state and federal approval pipeline.

“We encourage all elected officials to show the same level of support for all of the citizens of Maryland, not just Ocean City, and enact the same type of legislation,” he said. “This is an opportunity to protect our shoreline, protect the view and protect all that we have in Ocean City.”

Meanwhile, newly created Offshore Wind Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit aiming to bring offshore wind to the mid-Atlantic, has been working to educate the public on the benefits. The alliance’s website offshorewindalliance.org reads, “The East Coast is expected to see 83,000 new offshore wind jobs by 2030 … The Biden Administration has set a national goal of powering 10 million American homes and businesses with renewable offshore wind energy by 2030 … Thanks to Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act, offshore wind is poised to create $1.5 billion in new worker and business income in Maryland …”

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.