OCEAN CITY – The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) evidentiary hearing on the proposed change in the size of the turbines for one offshore wind farm began in earnest on Thursday with both sides firing salvos in their opening remarks.
Last year, Ørsted, the developer of the Skipjack project announced it was committed to using the GE-Haliade 12-megwatt turbines, described as the “world’s largest offshore wind turbine,” for its Skipjack project off the north end of Ocean City. The 12-megawatt turbines are significantly larger than turbines originally envisioned for the project off the resort coast.
Because of the drastic change in the proposed turbine size, the PSC in January held a five-hour-plus public hearing in Ocean City attended by hundreds to determine if a further evidentiary hearing was warranted. In February, the PSC granted the town of Ocean City’s request for an evidentiary hearing and it got underway on Thursday morning. The hearing is expected to continue for two days, and the PSC will, at some point, make a determination on the turbine size change.
In his opening statement on Thursday, Ørsted attorney Joseph Curran III said the 12-megawatt turbines now being proposed for the Skipjack project represented the “best available technology,” a concession placed on the PSC’s original approval for the project in 2017.
“We contend the principle impact of this selection is we’re going with a much more advanced turbine,” he said. “It provides a higher average output, which increases the ability to meet Maryland’s clean energy goals.”
Curran said the larger turbines would reduce the number needed to meet the project’s energy production goals and reduce its footprint off the coast of Ocean City.
“It will result in the need for fewer turbines,” he said. “Not only will there be fewer turbines, but they will be further away from the shore than the eight-megawatt outlay we discussed in 2017. They will actually utilize less of the visual horizon.”
Speaking on behalf of Ocean City, attorney Tim Maloney in his opening statement reiterated the town is not opposed to offshore wind projects off its coast. Instead, Ocean City merely wants the turbines to not be visible from shore.
“Ocean City supports renewable energy and is not opposed to wind turbines,” he said. “Ocean City has consistently stated the right steps and the right measures need to be taken and the right location needs to selected.”
Maloney said the 12-megawatt turbines as close as 21 miles from the shore could negatively and permanently impact the viewshed enjoyed the residents and the town’s eight million visitors each year. He pointed out the distance of the turbines has been a bit of a moving target throughout the process.
“These wind turbines will be off the coast of Ocean City for decades if not generations,” he said. “Ocean City is requesting the turbines be moved farther out from the shoreline and out of its viewshed. There needs to be certainty here. This cannot be a game of constantly shifting locations.”
When COVID-19 emerged, what had been planned as an in-person hearing akin to a court proceeding was changed to a virtual hearing in the interest of public safety. However, the town of Ocean City filed a motion seeking a continuance of the hearing, believing an in-person hearing would allow visuals to be better represented, but the PSC denied the motion.
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