North OC Battery Storage Deal Advances

OCEAN CITY — A future battery energy storage facility in north Ocean City moved closer to becoming a reality this week when the City Council approved both applications pending a potential land swap.

Early this month, the Ocean City Planning Commission held a marathon public hearing on two Delmarva Power and Light (DPL) applications to develop a battery energy storage facility on one of two lots on the bayside of Coastal Highway in the area of 100th Street and the public library. It’s complicated, but in layman’s term, a battery energy storage system, or BESS, would provide a fallback energy source in the resort for DPL during times of peak energy use on the barrier island.

It’s part of DPL’s larger plan to improve and ensure reliability at peak times. In 2019, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) initiated a program known as the Maryland Energy Storage Pilot Program. The intent of the pilot program is to explore the efficiency of deploying utility-scale energy storage throughout the state including Ocean City.

As a result, DPL is going to develop a BESS on one of two lots in the 100th Street area. DPL owns one of the two lots already, and the Town of Ocean City owns a second adjacent lot behind the library. The proposal on the table is for a land swap between the town and DPL for the two lots, which are of the same size and dimension.

Completion of the land swap would allow DPS to build the BESS on the parcel behind the library in an area where town utilities currently exist. If the land swap is not consummated, DPL would develop the BESS on the lot it currently owns. As a result, DPL has submitted applications for a conditional use for both parcels.

In early February, the planning commission voted for forward a favorable recommendation for the application to develop a BESS on both lots after a three-hour public hearing during which the commission heard concerns from citizens about the potential health impacts of the facility and the potential impact on the bayside viewshed.

In somewhat of a cart-before-horse measure, the Mayor and Council voted to move the proposed land swap to a public hearing, likely sometime early next month although it is not currently on an agenda. On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council had before both applications for a conditional use allowing the BESS on either of the lots, pending the outcome on the land swap. It should be noted DPL holds a permanent conditional use to develop a more-onerous permanent electric power substation on the lot it currently owns.

Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville explained the procedural issues for the Mayor and Council.

“This is a conditional use application,” he said. “Normally, we would at this point present the recommendation of the planning commission because they’ve held a public hearing. I don’t know if you want to hear a presentation from them first. Either way works.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said it likely wasn’t necessary to hear a full presentation from DPL on the two pending applications because the council has the findings of fact from the planning commission.

“We have the transcript of their presentation,” he said. “We’re supposed to base our decision on the transcript itself. We don’t take additional testimony unless we have questions for the applicant.”

Neville said the two applications are proceeding on parallel tracks pending the proposed land swap.

“If the land swap agreement is not accomplished, that would allow the battery storage facility on the lot DPL currently owns,” he said. “I believe the council is considering a public hearing on the land swap. That would result in a conditional use approval for lot C-1 based on the land swap agreement.”

Attorney Brian Showalter, representing DPL, explained the utility company is pressured because of the mandate from the PSC, which is why there are two applications being presented for each of the lots.

“We have an order from the Public Service Commission to implement the battery energy storage system, which is the reason we have two applications this evening at the same time,” he said. “The timeline for the implementation for this project has been extended. We’re in a position where we need to have both approvals in place.”

Showalter said DPL was seeking approval for both applications. If both were approved, DPL could build the BESS on the land acquired from the town, which is the favorable situation, or it could build the facility on the lot it currently owns. In either case, there would not be a permanent power substation built on the uptown lots.

“We respectfully ask that you move forward with both applications,” he said. “That leaves you with the ability to make a decision after the public hearing on the land swap. The only thing I would note is we proffered to the planning commission is that we’re only going to build this facility on one location. Whatever is approved, the second one would be withdrawn.”

With little debate, the council voted unanimously to approve both conditional use applications with conditions, subject to the completion of the proposed land swap.

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.