OCEAN CITY, Md. – After more than a year of debate between Ocean City and Ørsted, the state of Maryland ruled the offshore wind developer can use larger wind turbines for the Skipjack Wind Farm Project.
The Maryland Public Service Commission, who’s charged with regulating the Skipjack project, ruled Thursday evening on a number of issues surrounding the Ørsted project, to be located more than 20 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
The decision by the commission stems from Ørsted’s announcement in June 2019 that it planned to use General Electric’s 12-megawatt Haliade-X turbine for its project rather than a smaller 8-megawatt wind turbine.
Ocean City protested the move, saying the larger turbines would negatively impact the town’s economy. The town asked the commission to require Ørsted to move the project farther out to sea to minimize the visual impact of the project.
In a statement, Ørsted said it was pleased with the Public Service Commission’s decision.
“The project will continue to engage with all stakeholders on creating a project that all Marylanders can be proud of,” said Brady Walker, Ørsted’s Mid-Atlantic market manager. “We look forward to continuing our work in delivering clean and reliable energy to over 35,000 homes in the Delmarva region.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Public Service Commission’s decision:
Ørsted can use 12-megawatt turbines
In filings and hearings with the Public Service Commission, Ørsted argued the larger 12-megawatt turbines would improve the viewshed because it would allow the company to build fewer turbines (12 in total rather than 15 using the 8-megawatt turbines).
Ørsted also said the larger turbines will allow the company to move the project farther offshore from roughly 19.5 miles to either 21.5 or 22.7 miles off the coast of Maryland, according to the commission’s ruling.
“Although Skipjack concedes that the 12-megawatt turbines will be visible from Ocean City, it asserts that the 8-megawatt turbines would also have been visible and that the change in turbine selection may result in reduced visual impacts overall,” according to the ruling.
Ocean City said the larger turbines would impose a greater visual impact because the offshore structures will be three times taller than the tallest building in town, according to the Public Service Commission ruling. The 12-megawatt turbine would top out at 853 feet tall, 212 feet taller than the height of the 8-megawatt turbines.
The commission acknowledged the 12-megawatt turbines are larger but ruled with Skipjack because the technology had a number of benefits.
“The gravamen of Ocean City’s objection to the project (whether the 8-megawatt or 12-megawatt turbine is used) is that the turbines will be visible from the shore and may negatively impact tourism,” according to the Public Service Commission ruling. “The Commission takes Ocean City’s concerns seriously.”
The 12-megawatt turbines would drive down costs, which could benefit ratepayers, be more efficient, which would help Maryland increases it renewable energy levels, and reduce the visual impact because Ørsted could build fewer turbines farther out at sea, according to the ruling.
Turbine placement won’t be further offshore
Regardless of which turbine is used in the Skipjack Wind Farm Project, Ocean City pushed the Public Service Commission to move the project farther out to sea.
Ocean City asked to the commission to either mandate Ørsted build the project in the farthest eastern portion of the project area or move the entire project to more than 33 miles from shore “to mitigate potential harms to tourism and property values.”
The town noted the South Fork Wind Farm in development in Long Island, New York, will consist of 15 turbines located 35 miles from Montauk Point, which will be out of sight from Long Island beaches.
The commission declined to act on Ocean City’s request, citing several issues with why the state wouldn’t change the location of the project.
Under the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, the law requires offshore wind turbines be placed between 10 and 30 miles off the shore of Maryland. Moving the project outside of that area, the Public Service Commission said, would make it ineligible for the Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs), which is the financial support Maryland has offered toward construction.
The commission also cited the fact that it was the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management who created the Delaware Wind Energy Area, not the state of Maryland— meaning the U.S. government is responsible for citing where a wind farm can be built.
The Delaware Wind Energy Area is where the Skipjack project will be built.
Ørsted criticized for not working with stakeholders
While the Public Service Commission ruled against Ocean City on the issues of moving the project and the size of the turbines, the state agreed Ørsted’s effort to work with Ocean City “appeared (to be) meager.”
In testimony to the Public Service Commission, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said Ørsted wasn’t in routine communication with the town and other stakeholders, despite the state requiring the wind developer to do so.
Meehan testified that Ocean City has tried to work with Ørsted on ways to reduce the visual impact of the project but the company never considered the town’s ideas.
“Skipjack’s duty to reach out to stakeholders was not contingent on the stakeholders’ enthusiasm for the project,” according to the ruling. “Ocean City is an important stakeholder whose economy is vital to the state. Nor should Ocean City be punished for its lawful advocacy of a bill that would have required offshore wind turbines to be located at least 26 miles from shore.”
As a result, the Public Service Commission ordered Ørsted to engage with its stakeholders more, including Ocean City, and provide updates every six months on the company’s efforts.
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