Two wind farms proposed off the coast of Ocean City, Md., are getting a second look from the state of Maryland.
The Skipjack Wind Farm, led by Danish company Ørsted, and the MarWin Wind Farm by Baltimore-based U.S. Wind, a subsidiary of the Italian renewable energy company Renexia, are being reviewed in response to concerns raised by Ocean City officials about the farms’ impact on tourism to the famous vacation spot.
Both projects submitted updates to the state this fall detailing plans to install taller, more powerful turbines in their respective leasing areas.
The Maryland Public Service Commission, which has final approval on whether the projects receive key ratepayer-funded subsidies, will review public comments on the updated plans and may choose to hold a public hearing. It represents the projects’ first review since the MPSC conditionally approved them in 2017.
“We are very concerned about both projects being proposed off our coast,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “You know, there’s been enough things we’ve lost over the course of time. This could be another one: The pristine view off of Ocean City.”
The MarWin project’s new plan will reduce the number of turbines by half and move the entire farm three miles farther out to sea, to 20 miles away from the Ocean City beach. Spinning blades included, they will be 103 feet taller than the old windmills. But despite producing double the power, the size difference is an increase of just about 20%, said Salvo Vitale, country manager for U.S. Wind.
The Skipjack farm, 26 miles to the north, will use the largest turbines currently on the market, each producing 12 megawatts of power, said Joy Weber, the Skipjack project manager at Ørsted. The 850-foot turbines, as tall as a 60-story skyscraper, are about 50% taller than the 8-megawatt turbines originally listed in Skipjack’s plan, which were closer in size to the Washington Monument.
The commission has the power to impart drastic changes to the renewable energy projects, including by revoking or modifying its original order.
Representatives from both companies expressed confidence they would be allowed to continue, and said the height increases have been planned from the very beginning – technology is changing rapidly in the offshore wind industry, rendering smaller turbines obsolete.
Vitale said he is not worried about the commission’s review of the project because he views the changes as unilaterally beneficial to Ocean City’s viewshed concerns.
“For me, this is a huge improvement to the viewshed impact,” Vitale said. “I’m not concerned because I am genuinely and sincerely convinced we are doing the best for the project.”
As public comments on the changes closed Friday, Ocean City filed a petition asking to appear before the Maryland Public Service Commission and request that the members reconsider their approval of the two projects.
The Maryland Energy Administration, which advises the governor’s office on energy policy, also submitted a letter to the commission asking for a review of the changes.
Meehan said his office was aware that the size of the turbines could increase. But he didn’t know when.
Meehan feels the new turbine heights are “dramatically” different than the original proposals, and would like to see the turbines moved until they are 27-30 miles away from shore.
If the commission grants a hearing, it will be the first time since the projects were approved that Ocean City representatives will have been in front of the commission and allowed to make their case.
“Our goal has never been to stop the project,” Meehan said of the MarWin project, which lies closest to the Ocean City shore. “Our goal has been to move it further to the east.”
Vitale contends that Ocean City has been asking the project to build outside the leasing area they have been granted by the Department of the Interior.
“We tried to do our best, but we never had any constructive feedback from Ocean City,” he said.
Once built, the first phase of the MarWin Project is expected to generate enough energy to power more than 76,000 homes by 2023. In total, the farm is expected to generate enough energy to meet the needs of 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to the website for its Italian parent company.
Future expansion of the project closer to shore is planned, with the closest turbines at 13 miles from shore, according to the company’s original plans. But the specs for additional phases may change after the first phase moves farther from shore, Vitale said.
The Skipjack farm, located 19 miles from the Maryland-Delaware border and 26 miles from the Ocean City pier, is slated to come online in 2022. Its 15 turbines will have the capacity to generate 120 MW of energy at peak wind, enough to power 35,000 homes, according to Ørsted.
The Skipjack plans were originally drawn up using 8-megawatt turbines, but the project will actually use 12-megawatt turbines recently released by General Electric, according to a letter from Ørsted to the commission.
Another Mid-Atlantic Ørsted project, the 1,100-megawatt Ocean Wind project off the coast of New Jersey, will also use the 12-MW turbines when it comes online in 2024, according to Ørsted.
“The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the sister agency to the MPSC, just last week approved the use of this exact same turbine at (the Ocean Wind project),” Weber said. “And that is a much larger project than both of these (Maryland) projects combined.”
Meehan said he and other Ocean City residents are supportive of renewable energy in general and the jobs created by the new market.
“All we’re asking is, don’t do that at the price of the view off of Ocean City,” he said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding