While little has changed on the Ocean City side of the dispute between the resort and the companies that have contracted with the state to harvest wind power from the shoreline, the technology has advanced where US Wind has the opportunity to install fewer, albeit taller, turbines.
“We’ve been told by our supplier that 4-megawatt turbines would no longer be in production by the time we go to install them, so now we’re evaluating 6 megawatt or 8.4 megawatt turbines,” Paul Rich, director of project development at US Wind, said.
To generate the 750 megawatts of power the company won state approval for in May, US Wind would have to install more than 180 of the original, 4-megawatt turbines. By using the increased capacity of a 6-megawatt turbine, that number shrinks to 125. The largest turbine, 8.4 megawatts, cuts the install number down to less than half at 90.
US Wind’s supplier, Siemans, lists its 6-megawatt turbine with a rotor diameter of 154 meters, or more than 500 feet. The blades are 75 meters, or almost 250 feet, long. The higher-capacity model boasts similar specifications. To clear wave action and to reach that height above water, the towers would have to be taller than the rotor diameter.
The resort maintains it has no objection to wind power as an industry, but doesn’t want visitors, residents or tourists to be able to see them from the beach, or from any of the high-rise hotels in town.
The effort seems to have gained an ally in Governor Larry Hogan this week, who was in town to attend both the announcement of Delegate Mary Beth Carozza’s state senate bid and an Army Corps of Engineers press conference on beach replenishment.
Ocean City mayor Rick Meehan was also in attendance at the Army Corps’ press conference and pulled Gov. Hogan aside following the meeting. Meehan asked the governor if he noticed the unspoiled view of the horizon at 94th Street.
“Yes, and we’re going to keep it that way,” Hogan said.
Rich, for his part, was in town last Thursday to meet with the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. He said it was a good meeting to continue the conversation, though the company isn’t required to get the resort’s blessing.
“We want to be good corporate neighbors,” he said.
Madlyn Carder, owner of BJ’s on the Water and chamber director, said the organization’s opinion is the same as the city’s – they want the turbines moved farther offshore. Councilman and Chamber President John Gehrig echoed Carder’s statement.
Congressman Andy Harris introduced an amendment to the annual appropriation in July to prohibit federal funding for inspectors to evaluate wind farm projects fewer than 24 nautical miles from the shoreline.
Rich, at the time, called the amendment “unhelpful” and “not realistic” on several fronts, but most glaringly, because 24 miles off the coast is outside the leasing area the company purchased in 2014 for $8.7 million.
Behind the lease area is a shipping lane, and beyond that is open water – not evaluated or available for offshore wind leases through the agency responsible for developing those plans, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The BOEM started the ball rolling on offshore wind in Maryland in 2010 under a different proposal from a different company, with Ocean City’s direct involvement and support. The process ended with the auction in 2014.
To develop another leasing area the bureau would have to start from scratch, potentially delaying projects for years. Also, the ocean gets deeper off the coast, and may not be suitable for current technology.
Ocean City has hired lobbyist Bruce Bereano at a cost of $65,000 to further its agenda, while Rich has also had some allies emerge.
“Until the federal budget is resolved or Harris pulls the amendment it’s still a factor, but we’ve had other Republicans speak out because offshore oil and gas are subject to the same legislation,” Rich said. “It affects all holders of federal leases of underwater lands – the same thing could happen to them.”
Rich said there was a lot of overlap in the supply chains of offshore wind and legacy energy operations, from the bases the turbines are installed on, to the cables and the services provided to offshore rigs.
“In the declining oil and gas industries we found an ally,” he said.
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