Ocean City has lost its legislative bid to push two offshore wind projects farther from its coastline.
The Maryland House’s Economic Matters committee dealt the fatal blow, giving the legislation an unfavorable report Monday.
The bill pitted the town and its tourism industry against an unlikely coalition of manufacturers, labor unions and environmental advocates.
“This vote will help ensure that these offshore wind projects years in the making can fulfill their promise to provide Maryland residents with health and climate benefits, good jobs, and more stable electricity rates,” the Maryland Climate Coalition said in a statement.
The measure sought to push back the turbines to 26 miles offshore. Existing regulations allow the structures to rise anywhere from 10-30 miles offshore along the Outer Continental Shelf.
Deepwater Wind and U.S. Wind are seeking to construct a total of 47 turbines in two separate federal leases. They are slated to be among the country’s first large-scale offshore wind energy developments.
The Maryland Public Service Commission last May approved ratepayer subsidies for the two projects, and both companies have begun laying the groundwork for construction.
In February, Ocean City’s Town Council, though, passed a resolution registering its opposition to “visible” offshore wind structure. Town officials and tourism industry representatives fear the sight of turbines on the horizon will deter visitors.
Under pressure from Ocean City, U.S. Wind has agreed to push its turbines back from 12 to 17 miles from the shoreline.
But Mayor Rick Meehan and other town officials say the company isn’t legally bound to that promise, and its permits with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management permit seek to erect turbines as close as 12.9 miles in future phases.
The bill had drawn the support of several Lower Shore lawmakers, including Delegates Chris Adams, R-37B-Wicomico; Mary Beth Carozza, R-38C-Worcester; and Charles Otto, R-37A-Somerset.
Adams, an Economics Matter committee member, said Monday the fight is far from over. He pointed to two final permits needed from BOEM and the possibility of further state-level intervention.
Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Hughes acknowledged in a House committee hearing Thursday that U.S. Wind might have to come back before the commission.
Last year’s approval allows the company to construct turbines produce up to 6 megawatts. If it seeks to match Deepwater’s 8 megawatt turbines, U.S. Wind would have to get the commission to sign off.
And that would provide Ocean City officials with another opportunity to persuade commission members to draw a new line on the seafloor.
The bill that died Monday, Adams said in a statement, “is just the start of the legislative process to create a win-win for the state of Maryland and the companies that stand to gain from development of off shore wind energy.”
The distance bill faced long odds in a Democratically controlled legislature that has favored a raft of renewable energy bills in recent years.
The bill energized both sides of the debate. A Senate committee hearing last week drew 43 speakers to sign up. Two days later, the House committee heard testimony on the bill for nearly three hours.
U.S. Wind plans to start producing electricity in 2021; Deepwater could follow suit as early as 2023.
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