Plans to install the largest offshore wind turbines on the market off the coast of Maryland are running into challenges.
Both Ørsted A/S and U.S. Wind Inc., the developers of two slow-going offshore wind proposals in Maryland, have appealed to state regulators to update their plans to reflect the industry’s larger models.
But some local and state officials are worried that the taller structures would mar the view off the coast. The companies, though, have said larger structures would result in fewer turbines, alleviating scenery impacts. They maintain they are still in compliance with requirements Maryland laid out when it approved tax credits for the projects in 2017.
At Skipjack, a proposed 120-megawatt wind farm planned 19 miles from the Delaware-Maryland border, Ørsted plans to use General Electric Co.’s 12-MW Haliade-X turbine model. At MarWin, a proposed offshore development 17 miles from Ocean City, Md., U.S. Wind is considering 8- to 12-MW turbines, at least double the original 4-MW turbine proposal.
Experts say larger turbines are the norm.
“Developers typically select the largest turbines that they can, that are expected to be commercially viable in their time frame,” said Walt Musial, offshore wind manager for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He noted the developers’ schedule must also account for the speed at which technology can be proved up from promising prototypes to commercial readiness.
U.S. Wind, which recently announced a two-year delay for MarWin, has defended its plea to regulators to increase turbine size. When Maryland regulators approved the project’s application for offshore wind renewable energy credits two years ago, these large models didn’t exist, the company said in a December update provided in lieu of an interview.
The company also said the project had been delayed in part because it was addressing “unfounded viewshed concerns” raised by the Ocean City mayor and the governor’s energy advisers at the Maryland Energy Administration.
The Maryland Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing about the proposed turbines on Jan. 18 on the Eastern Shore.
Jobs and views
The nascent U.S. offshore wind market has yet to raise more than five turbines. Block Island Wind Farm, a pilot project off the coast of Rhode Island that’s been operating since 2016, has served as an icebreaker that has encouraged – alongside state policies for offshore development and federal permitting – a rush of wind project proposals from Maine to Virginia.
Offshore wind is a means to hit renewable energy portfolio targets, like sourcing all Maryland electricity from renewables by 2020, while potentially creating a new industrial sector to serve what could be a sizable market.
“I believe this decision creates tremendous opportunities for Maryland,” Commissioner Michael Richard said in 2017 when the state PSC approved tax credits to help fund Skipjack and MarWin. “It enables us to meet our clean, renewable energy goals using energy generated within the state while conditioning our approval on holding project developers to their promises of creating jobs and spurring economic growth.”
When Ørsted announced in June that it had signed an agreement for a staging area to build turbines at Sparrows Point, a former steel mill and shipbuilding site in Baltimore County, the governor’s office praised the new opportunity.
Maryland anticipates the two wind farms will generate $1.8 billion in spending and more than 9,000 jobs.
But MarWin’s turbine plans have troubled the coastal community of Ocean City.
“We are very concerned about both projects being proposed off our coast,” Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan told the Salisbury, Md., Daily Times in late November. “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.”
In public comments, the Business Network for Offshore Wind came to MarWin’s defense, arguing that turbine size has been discussed in earlier reviews and that throwing out the commission’s 2017 decision to award offshore wind renewable energy credits to Skipjack and MarWin would “lead to private sector disinvestment in the State due to regulatory uncertainty.”
The commission is conducting an inquiry into increased turbine size. The review will address the projected cost of the change, in keeping with the state’s “open book” requirements to protect ratepayers, according to the PSC hearing order.
Maryland’s approval of credits for the two wind farms includes a condition that 80% of realized savings from technological advances must be passed on to Maryland ratepayers.
Jason Stanek, chairman of the state PSC, declined to speak about the pending issue of turbine size but said project delays have yet to raise red flags.
“Building offshore wind turbines this far from the coast is not an easy venture,” Stanek said. “The commission would be concerned with any undue delay, but we recognize with this process that there will be some delays along the way.”
U.S. Wind originally planned to begin commercially operating the MarWin farm on Jan. 2, 2020.
The company pushed operation to 2021 and recently announced a new projection, albeit a tentative one, of 2023.
“U.S. Wind’s estimated commercial operation date may continue to change as its qualified offshore wind project develops or as unforeseen variables may arise,” the company told state regulators in a November letter.
The company faced setbacks from Hurricane Dorian and had a contractor fall through, according to the letter.
U.S. Wind said in a statement that an updated construction and operation plan would be filed with Maryland in early 2020 but nodded to additional uncertainties on the federal permitting side.
The company is seeking “sufficient clarity” from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before it files an updated plan with federal regulators, according to the statement.
“It is US Wind’s intention to address in its own [construction and operations plan] any of the issues raised by BOEM’s review of Vineyard Wind’s project and believes that this is the most prudent approach to avoid unnecessary delays to its own,” U.S. Wind wrote.
BOEM was expected to release a final environmental review last summer for the Vineyard Wind offshore proposal off the coast of Massachusetts. Instead, the agency said it would first conduct a supplemental review of the cumulative impact the nascent offshore wind industry will have on fisheries. That review is expected to be out for public comment early this year.
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