The view of waters off Ocean City remains clear, while the possibility of electricity-generating wind turbines jutting up from the horizon is somewhat less so, as local government continued its effort either to kill the idea or push the turbines farther offshore and out of sight.
Ocean City government made an abrupt about face during a late March public comment session held at Stephen Decatur Middle School with the Public Service Commission when Mayor Rick Meehan, after viewing a new rendering of what the turbines could look like from the shore, came out against the development.
Previously, Ocean City had been an ally of the effort.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act, which would create an 80,000-acre wind energy area between 10 to 30 miles off Ocean City’s coast. The wind energy area is divided into two lease areas, one closer to Delaware and the other near Ocean City.
US Wind’s first proposal put the first line of 187 turbines 12 miles off the beach to generate 750 megawatts of power. The turbines would be approximately 480 feet tall and would have two red lights that would blink at night.
Deepwater Wind, the other candidate, proposed 15 wind turbines offering 120 megawatts that would be off the coast near 145th Street.
“I do support the initiative,” Meehan said. “I met with both US Wind and Skipjack to talk about their companies and the project, but I hadn’t seen the renderings.”
Meehan said there was more visual impact on the views than he anticipated.
“I support the jobs and revenue but I am concerned,” he said.
Meehan cautioned the commissioners to not jeopardize what the resort already offers to the state, particularly in tax revenues, by adding something to the coastline that could detract from that value.
“We need to find the ways to mitigate the visual pollution,” he said.
Only one other person of the 100 who attended the meeting agreed with Meehan, but the new direction the resort took was only getting started.
At the next city council meeting, Meehan brought in Paul Rich of US Wind to present his proposal that ultimately ended with the council voting unanimously to send a letter to the governor and the Public Service Commission protesting the project, based on its visibility.
Days after the Ocean City Council agreed to send a letter that asks the proposed wind farms not be seen from the shore, the company that sparked these concerns began redesigning its project to move its turbines back five miles. But Mayor Rick Meehan said pushing the turbines from 12 to 17 miles from the coast might not be enough.
“I recognize the gesture, but I’m not sure that additional five miles is an alternate,” he said on Tuesday. “Our intent is to point out that what we saw and what we were presented is not what we were led to believe was going to be installed.”
One of the concerns is the potential impact on property values.
Real estate agents from Block Island, Rhode Island, home to the only offshore wind operation in the country, and in Maui, Hawaii, which has a land-based operation, aren’t concerned with the intrusiveness of such devices.
Locally, the Coastal Association of Realtors acknowledges this lack of evidence, but also declined to take a position on the turbines, favoring a wait-and-see approach.
There is one study, released about a year ago by the University of North Carolina State University, which concluded offshore wind farms would have a substantial impact on tourism there, but also drew some positive conclusions.
The study concluded that no one was willing to pay a premium over what is currently charged for a vacation rental with a view of a wind farm, and tourists were likely to choose a rental without a view of turbines rather than one that did if the turbines were less than five miles offshore.
On the other hand, the study also concluded those impacts were far less important once the turbines got eight or so miles from shore, far less distance than is being offered by both proposals currently before the state.
This became moot, when ahead of the May 17 deadline the Public Service Commission issued conditional approvals to both proposed offshore wind operations off the coast of Ocean City.
As proposed, the US Wind project would be located 12-15 nautical miles offshore, but the PSC added a condition that it be located as far east in the lease area as practical. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management determined the offshore areas that could be developed for wind energy, and Maryland’s lease area, as won by US Wind, is located to the east of the resort, from the Delaware line down south past the inlet.
Now that both proposals for offshore wind farms had been granted provisional approval, both US Wind and Skipjack Wind could begin their respective projects in earnest, but are still subject to certain conditions by the state’s Public Service Commission.
US Wind had 27 conditions placed on their project, and Skipjack had 28, though the two sets of rules are largely similar in scope – many with minor changes in amounts and percentages.
Addressing the most common concerns and criticisms of the project are conditions that require both companies to use the best commercially available technology to minimize both daytime and nighttime views of the wind farm, as well as above ground and underwater sound generation.
Remaining underwater, both projects are required to develop all appropriate precautionary measures to ensure marine mammals are protected at all phases of the project, and all environmental remediation and mitigation measures though the best commercially available means.
Birds are not mentioned in the requirements.
As part of the construction project, pile driving is limited to daytime hours only.
Both projects have a decommissioning plan on file with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management should the projects not work out, and any modifications to that plan must be submitted to both the PSC and BOEM at the same time.
Each project is expected to create a certain number of jobs, accounted for by fulltime equivalent positions in the PSC report. US Wind is required to create at least 1,298 in-state direct development or construction period jobs and 2,282 direct operating period jobs. Skipjack is required to create at least 913 development or construction period jobs and 484 direct operating period jobs.
Both entities are required to submit ongoing, independently audited reports on job creation.
US Wind is required to spend 19 percent of capital expenditures in Maryland, and Skipjack is required to spend 34 percent in Maryland.
Both projects are required to use a port facility in the greater Baltimore region as the marshaling port, where the components of the project are transported and loaded onto the installation vessel. A port in the Ocean City region will be used as the operations and maintenance port.
Both projects are required to maintain an office in Maryland for the life of the project.
If there are cost savings via efficiencies or grant funding, which both businesses are required to apply for, those savings must be returned to the ratepayers at a rate of 80 percent of the savings within six months. There is a threshold of seven percent from the construction report estimate made with each project’s application before the companies have to pay out on realized savings. Additionally, ratepayers, purchasers of offshore renewable energy credits and the state are to be held harmless for any cost overruns.
As for the energy credits, US Wind is allowed to sell almost 914,000 at an amount not to exceed $131.93, valued in 2012 dollars, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020. Skipjack is entitled to sell 455,482 at the same rate, beginning on Jan. 1, 2023. Both companies can sell ORECs for 20 years.
Skipjack is subject to one condition US Wind is not, which is to conduct comprehensive and timely outreach to both Maryland and Delaware local, state and federal officials and agencies involving, but not limited to the siting of the project. A report summarizing these efforts and any conditions Skipjack voluntarily agrees to must be delivered within six months.
US Wind is subject to a condition that Skipjack is not, which is to locate the project in the eastern-most portion of its lease area that can reasonably and practicably do so.
Both entities agreed to the terms offered by the PSC.
In the last minutes during a July meeting, Councilman Tony DeLuca made a motion to draft a third letter to US Wind and Deepwater Wind, to see if they will put their respective projects 26 miles away from the shore. That’s the distance that city officials believe the turbines won’t be seen by residents or visitors.
DeLuca said it was time to push the matter further, as there has been no word from either energy company.
The response came about a week later, but not from either energy company, but from Congressman Andy Harris.
Harris (R-1) had an amendment accepted on the Interior Appropriations bill for next year.
The amendment would prohibit federal funding for inspectors to evaluate wind farm projects fewer than 24 nautical miles from the shoreline.
Paul Rich, project development director for the company, said those inspections are crucial for the project to hit its 2019 startup date.
“If there are no funds in 2018 – that’s a critical time, and would kill the project,” he said.
Rich 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.
“The leasing area is shaped like a triangle – there’s space for maybe two turbines” at that distance, Rich said.
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.
To develop another leasing area the BOEM 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.
Then, to further deflate the property value argument against offshore turbines, economist Anirban Basu, of Sage Policy Group, concluded the most dangerous impacts of offshore wind to Ocean City are anticipated ones, and after the turbines start spinning those fears and perceptions are likely to dissipate.
If you know someone with real estate who is worried about the impacts of turbines on property values, the best thing to do would be to make them an offer, Basu said.
“There is no statistically significant impact on property values,” he said.
Because there is little research into the impacts of offshore wind in the U.S., because the country has so few wind farms off the coast, Basu said he studied data from domestic onshore wind emplacements and European countries with significant offshore wind power generation.
Basu said there was also little data to support the conclusion offshore wind generation would cause a decrease in tourism, but there was evidence that it stimulated it.
In September, resort officials hired Maryland lobbyist Bruce Bereano to help get out a message about wind farms: move them out of sight.
“I’d rather have him working for us than against us,” Councilman Wayne Hartman said. “It’s important to make it clear that we’re not against the wind farms. It can be done in a way that works for everyone.”
Bereano, who has lobbied state lawmakers for special-interest groups for three decades, is the second-highest paid lobbyist in Annapolis. He was interviewed and hired by the mayor and council during a lengthy closed session on Sept. 12. The vote to bring on Bereano was apparently unanimous.
Bereano signed a one-year contract for $65,000, which expires on Aug. 31, 2018. The contract includes a cap of $750 for expenses, such as mileage and parking fees.
Later, in November, while little had 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 to 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.