he Maryland Public Service Commission will review the turbine schematics for two wind projects planned off the shore of Ocean City in a public hearing.
Commission members ruled Friday that plans to increase the size of the turbines used in both projects are significant changes to the plans originally approved in 2017 and ordered a hearing on the impacts that may result from the larger, more powerful turbines the U.S. Wind and Skipjack farms plan to build.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the issue at a hearing on the Eastern Shore in January.
The commission’s decision is a win for Ocean City, as town leaders had requested the commission open a hearing. Ocean City officials have long expressed concerns about the potential chilling effect the sight of turbines on the horizon might have on tourism.
In a statement, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan thanked the Public Service Commission for its decision.
“We have always had concerns regarding the visual impact of the wind turbines even at the original size approved by the PSC,” Meehan said in a statement. “However, when developers released plans to unilaterally double the size of these massive turbines without any public input or approvals, it was clearly time for the Commission to step in.”
The commission declined Ocean City’s additional request to reopen the hearing on U.S. Wind’s and Skipjack’s Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credits, which provide critical financial support to the projects.
Rep. Andy Harris R-1st-Md., also reacted to the news in a statement:
“The view of dozens of giant wind turbines in these proposed projects from the beach in Ocean City undermines our local economy. I commend the decision of the Maryland Public Service Commission to reconsider spending tax dollars of hard-working Marylanders to pay subsidies for both the U.S. Wind and Skipjack offshore wind projects.
“Both of these projects, developed by foreign companies, now include proposals to install giant 853-foot tall wind turbines off Maryland’s coast – windmills that are nearly three times taller than those originally proposed and originally approved several years ago by the Commission.
“I share the concerns of the residents of Ocean City, which in addition to having to see larger unsightly towers with their flashing red aviation warning lights, also include negative effects on fishing, marine safety tourism, and property values. These projects as now proposed with much larger windmills need to be stopped until all the local concerns can be dealt with, if that is even possible.
In their initial applications to the commission in 2016, the U.S. Wind and Skipjack wind farms stated their intention to use 4 megawatt and 8 megawatt turbines, respectively. In 2019, the companies submitted to the commission new plans: U.S. Wind would use either 8, 10 or 12 megawatt turbines, while Skipjack would certainly use 12 megawatt turbines.
The U.S. Wind 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, a company executive said in November. The specifications of the Skipjack farm, aside from the turbine size, are currently not slated to change, its project manager said.
The switch to larger turbines was not unprecedented: The impact the turbines would have on Ocean City’s view from the beach was a significant part of the original case that allowed the projects to proceed. The commission approved the projects on the condition that the companies make “best commercially-reasonable efforts to minimize the daytime and nighttime viewshed impacts” of their respective projects, including via use of the most cutting-edge turbine technology.
The U.S. Wind project is slated to come online in 2023. The Skipjack project will be completed in 2022.
Final decision-making power regarding the environmental and viewshed impacts of the projects’ turbine selection lies with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which has final say over the projects. A BOEM review will take place after the projects each submit to the government a construction and operations plan.
The public hearing, intended to aid in the commission’s analysis of the projects’ impacts, will occur at 12 p.m. Jan. 18, at a yet-undecided location on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
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