OCEAN CITY – While the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) last week did green light both proposed offshore wind projects off the coast of Ocean City, there will still be ample opportunities for resort officials to push for moving the proposed turbines further off the coast.
The PSC announced last Thursday it had approved both the US Wind project, which will put 62 turbines as close as 12-15 miles from the coast of the resort in its first phase, and Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project, which is considerably smaller in scale at 15 turbines as close as 17-21 miles off the coast. The PSC announcement appeared on the surface to mean the two proposed wind farm projects off the resort’s coast had the green light to proceed, but in reality, the decision was just another step in what will likely be a long process before any turbines appear off the coast. Technically, the PSC awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs) to both developers, a point not lost on Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan this week.
“The PSC approval was for the projects’ acceptance into the state’s offshore energy program and its associated utility subsidy,” he said. “It was not a permit to actually construct either farm. Both projects must still go through an extensive permit process for the turbines, the cables connecting the turbines to the shore and the work on the shore itself.”
The PSC decision announced last Thursday came just a little over a week after the Mayor and Council fired off another strongly worded letter to the regulatory agency expressing a desire to have the offshore turbines sited at least 26 miles off the coast, or a distance determined to far enough out to have a zero visual impact from the shoreline.
During separate presentations last month, US Wind pitched its proposal to develop a wind farm off the resort’s coast with the first row of turbines on the front edge of the designated Wind Energy Area (WEA) of just about 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City. When resort officials pushed back on the distance of the first row of turbines, US Wind offered to move them back another five miles.
Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would be located in a WEA situated more off the coast of neighboring Delaware and although that project is smaller in scale with just 15 turbines, the turbines would be considerably taller and might be visible off the Ocean City coast at a proposed distance of 17-21 miles. Two weeks ago, relying on the best available science, the Mayor and Council fired off a letter to the PSC urging the agency to include language in any approved plan to have the turbines at least 26 miles off the coast.
The PSC last week at least acknowledged Ocean City’s concerns about the ability to see the turbines from the shore and the impact those views could have on tourism, aesthetics and even property values. For example, the US Wind project would be required to site its turbines as far to the east, or away from the shoreline, as practical. Both projects would be required to take advantage of the best commercially-available technology less the views of wind turbines by beachgoers and residents both during the day and at night.
However, the state agency did not include specific language about distances but left the issue rather open-ended with phrases such as “minimized to the fullest extent possible” and “as far to the east as practical,” for example.
Nonetheless, Meehan said this week there will be ample opportunity for Ocean City to present its concerns with the siting of the turbines through what will clearly be a lengthy process.
“Depending on the location of the turbines, cables and shore-side infrastructure, we anticipate that federal permits will need to be issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Army Corps of Engineers,” he said. “These permits will require an environmental impact study which includes cultural impacts as well as input from numerous other federal agencies.”
Meehan said there will also be considerable opportunities for input at the state level before any turbine is ever erected off the resort coast.
“At the state level, permits may be needed from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Public Works,” he said. “We are currently investigating all of these processes to make sure our concerns are heard at every level.”
Deepwater Wind has constructed the only other offshore wind farm in the U.S. with its Block Island project off the coast of Rhode Island. Meehan used the Block Island project as an example of the strenuous regulatory process before any turbines are developed.
“The Block Island wind farm project had at least five public hearings during the environmental impact permit process,” he said. “We would expect to have at least that many for these projects and will insist that these hearings happen in Ocean City so that our residents’ voices can be heard by the permit agencies. We will, of course, keep an open dialogue with both developers to work with them as much as possible to minimize any negative impacts.”