Spirited Debate Featured At Offshore Wind Public Hearing; City Engineer Fears ‘A Wall of Turbines’ On Horizon

OCEAN CITY — In an often-spirited, three-hour plus virtual public hearing, the Maryland Public Service Commission heard a wide range of opinions on the proposed next phases of two offshore wind energy projects off the coast of Ocean City.

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday held the first of two virtual public hearings on applications from US Wind and Ørsted for second phases of two offshore wind energy projects off the coast of the resort. In 2017, the PSC awarded Offshore Renewable Energy Credits, or ORECS, for two projects including US Wind’s Marwin project and Ørsted ’s Skipjack I project.

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 on Tuesday held the first of two public hearings virtually. The second was scheduled for Thursday night. As expected, local officials remained adamant they continue to support clean energy, including offshore wind, but voiced opposition about the proposed scope and locations for the second-phase projects.

On the other side, environmental advocacy groups and private citizens praised the proposed expansion of offshore wind in Maryland and cited global warming and climate change as reasons to expand offshore wind and the state’s clean energy portfolio. Others extolled the estimated jobs created by the projects and the economic impact the industry will and is fostering in Maryland.

Naturally, a lot of the testimony over about three hours became redundant, but those for and against the proposed expansion of the offshore wind farms off the coast made sure to get their points across. Elected officials went first with their testimony and State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-380), who represents Ocean City and the Lower Shore, led off.

“As someone who was raised and has resided in Ocean City, I remain committed to doing all that I can to preserve our Ocean City way of life and our spectacular views,” she said. “I implore the PSC commissioners to consider this Ocean City way of life for our residents and visitors may be no more with the recent applications. These recent proposals requesting additional ORECs would allow for a significant increase in turbines off the coast of Ocean City.”

From the outset of what has now become a years-long process, local officials have repeatedly said they support offshore wind, but wanted the turbines sited at a distance far enough offshore that they are not visible from the shoreline. Carozza echoed those sentiments on Tuesday.

“We support clean energy in Maryland, including offshore wind, but we stand in opposition to the size and location of these wind turbines,” she said. “Ocean City tourism continues to create thousands of jobs and is a top revenue-generator for the state of Maryland, pumping billions of dollars into the state’s economy. Why would we put all of this at risk when studies continue to show tourism drops significantly when turbines are within view, including jobs and home sales? Why would put all of this at risk when the turbines can be moved farther offshore as other states have done.”

Evan Richards, representing State Senator Katherine Klausmeier (D-8-Baltimore County), said climate change was reason enough the expand offshore wind energy off of Maryland’s coast.

“It’s no secret that offshore wind is a solution to the climate change we must address,” he said. “The General Assembly has taken great steps to assure we can do that, including offshore wind. Such a large amount of energy generated will help the state reach its clean energy goals.”

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.

Next up was Ocean City Mayor Rich Meehan, who delivered perhaps the most compelling testimony in opposition to awarding ORECs for the second-phase projects.

“To be consistent, Ocean City continues to support clean energy,” he said. “The promised jobs by this industry will clearly benefit all Marylanders, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the future of Ocean City.”

Meehan said he testified last year when the Skipjack project switched from the eight-megawatt turbines to the 12-megawatt turbines.

“At the time, the project consisted of 21 turbines and it was clearly stated the turbines would be sited at least 20 miles off our coast,” he said. “That’s right in the PSC record on that hearing. Why would you consider awarding ORECs that will allow turbines less than 20 miles off the coast? That would contradict the commissioners’ own opinion.”

Meehan pointed out the first ORECs for the two projects were issued by the PSC in 2017 and there is still not one turbine installed four years later. “This does not have to happen now,” he said. “Allowing turbines 13-17 miles off our beach would be the mistake of a lifetime. It would be irreversible and destroy the pristine view of the horizon millions of residents, property owners and visitors have enjoyed for generations. We cannot rely on US Wind or Skipjack to protect the future of Ocean City. We must rely on you. We only get one chance to get this right and this is your chance.”

City Engineer Terry McGean spoke at the virtual PSC hearing on Tuesday from his personal perspective and not from his official capacity with the town.

“Tonight, I’m speaking in my individual capacity,” he said. “In January 2020, US Wind indicated their switch from six-megawatts to 12-megawatts was a good thing because they could build fewer turbines farther from shore. People who saw the renderings were shocked, so shocked, in fact, that they thought the town of Ocean City was exaggerating the project. Those renderings that scared so many people showed 61 turbines. We viewed that as our worst-case scenario.”

McGean said the increase in the number of turbines proposed, and their increased height during the lengthy approval process was reason for concern.

“Never in my worst nightmare did I envision 104 14-megawatt turbines in this lease area, never,” he said. “US Wind will argue if you don’t issue more ORECs, you will be delaying offshore wind development in Maryland. Don’t believe them. The awarding of additional ORECs will result in a wall of turbines across the horizon of Ocean City. They will be the dominant feature on our horizon both day and night.”

After state and local officials made their pitches during the hearing, there was a steady stream of public speakers both in favor and against expanding offshore wind off the coast of Ocean City, in an alternating fashion that almost seemed planned. There was a steady stream of speakers from environmental advocacy groups that spoke in favor of the expansion.

There were local individuals who spoke in strong opposition to the expansion of the two projects. One local resident pointed out those who spoke most adamantly about proposed expansion of the projects were not from Ocean City or even the Eastern Shore. Assateague Coastal Trust Executive Director Kathy Phillips pointed out the public uproar in the resort decades ago when the beach replenishment project created the dunes that blocked views from lower level beachfront condos, and now they are accepted and even viewed as an asset.

One local resident, Linda Linzey of Ocean City, said the town’s official position in opposition does not necessarily reflect the views of many residents.

“Most Ocean City residents approve of wind energy and turbines off the coast,” she said. “Building turbines off the coast of other communities has been an attraction, not a deterrent. I can’t imagine vacationers will cancel an excursion to Ocean City because of these little blips on the horizon.”

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.