Taller Turbines? Public Hearing on OC Offshore Wind Projects

The plans to put offshore wind farms off the shores of Ocean City, Maryland have grown increasingly controversial, and this weekend, two wind farm developers will come face to face with the town of Ocean City.

Roughly 32 months after it awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs) to two offshore wind farm developers, the Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC) is giving citizens their first chance to weigh in on the developers’ most recent proposals at a public comment hearing being held on Saturday, January 18, in Ocean City.

More specifically, MPSC is holding the hearing as part of a “limited inquiry” into the potential impacts related to both projects planning to install turbines that are significantly taller, with much larger rotors, than originally proposed.

The biggest impact is that the turbines would be much more visible than previously thought and, if installed in their originally-approved locations, would potentially violate one of the nearly 30 conditions of the projects’ approval: to locate them “as far to the east (away from the shoreline) of the designated wind energy area as practical” and to “lessen views of the wind turbines by beach-goers and residents” as much as possible. 

It is due to this potential violation that Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan led the charge in calling for the hearing, now dubbed the “Save Our Sunrise Public Hearing,” and is urging the public to join him in supporting “Green & Unseen Wind Farms.

Skipjack Offshore Energy, LLC, one of the wind farm developers, proposed using Haliade-X 12MW turbines last fall, for their best-in-class efficiency. One condition of approval was to employ the “best available technology” on the wind farms. But at nearly 850 feet tall and 720 feet in rotor diameter, they are also “the world’s largest offshore wind turbines.” 

And while U.S. Wind, the second project’s developer, has not finalized a decision on its choice of turbine, it similarly informed PSC last October that it is also considering turbines that are significantly larger than those first proposed but, on the plus side, would allow for a potential reduction in number, from 64 to 32, and a corresponding increase in their distance from the shoreline.

Mayor Meehan, Skipjack, and U.S. Wind each tell Bay Bulletin that they will be attending and speaking at the hearing.

In a recent letter to residents, Mayor Meehan says his concern about the project grows larger as the proposed turbines do.

“In order to avoid the destruction of our natural view forever and the negative impact on our community, the Town of Ocean City is insisting these turbines be moved at least 33 miles from shore.”

He goes on to say, “Making sure these turbines are out of the viewshed of Ocean City is not only a benefit to our residents and property owners, but also to the 8 million people who visit our beach each year. Most importantly, it is our responsibility to protect the natural beauty of our beach so that our children, grandchildren and their grandchildren can enjoy the same pristine horizon that we enjoy every day in Ocean City.”

Meehan is urging property owners to write to the PSC and their elected officials, and calling for a “strong turnout” at the hearing.

Gabriel Martinez, a spokesman for Orsted, Skipjack’s parent company, plans to defend its choice of turbine at the public hearing, saying in a statement:

“Ørsted stands ready to participate in the Public Service Commission’s limited public hearing on Skipjack, a project that will bring $200 million in economic impact to Maryland while delivering carbon-free energy to 35,000 homes. When Ørsted submitted its bid, we committed to using the best available turbine technology. We look forward to demonstrating the benefits of our turbine selection on January 18.”

To combat Mayor Meehan’s tourism fears, Martinez shared a recent study from the University of Rhode Island demonstrating that tourism continued to flourish in Block Island, Rhode Island, after Orsted’s Block Island Wind Farm, located just three miles off the coast, went into operation in 2017. 

In a statement of their own, US Wind’s Country Manager Salvo Vitale says the projects will mean growth for Maryland, marking “the beginning of a new industry that will bring thousands of well-paid jobs and a proven positive impact on the State Economy.”

“US Wind has diligently pursued the best available technology… in order to minimize the viewshed impact, by installing half of the original envisaged turbines even further than originally planned,” Vitale goes on to say in the statement.

“We see this new hearing as an opportunity to further educate the relevant stakeholders on the continuing improvements of our Project. Our goal is to show how, by embracing the most updated technology available on the market, US Wind is trying to deliver the best possible project to the State.”

The hearing will be held on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. in Rooms 215-217 at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, 4001 Coastal Highway in Ocean City, Maryland.

Those interested can sign up to attend and receive hearing updates here:

Steve Adams