State to host nation’s largest offshore wind farm
Two systems OK’d for Atlantic waters off Ocean City
The Maryland Public Service Commission last week approved two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, putting Maryland in position to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.
The companies — U.S. Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines in the Atlantic Ocean to use wind to generate clean energy. The turbines will be connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.
The approval of just one farm would have put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission decided to OK both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee
increase for ratepayers, according to Tori Leonard, the Maryland Public Service Commission’s communications director.
Maryland is required to produced a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, it can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.
Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is up and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.
The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.
“For less than a cup of coffee [per month for homeowners], we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.
The estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with U.S. Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with U.S. Wind’s being $0.99 per month and Deepwater’s being $0.45 per month, according to a recent report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.
Former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.
The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the this year’s General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.
Those who support Maryland offshore wind said the farms will bring jobs to the state and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.
Opponents were concerned about the costs and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.
Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore) said she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.
Last November, the commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by U.S. Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings LLC.
The U.S. Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.
Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.
“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing U.S. Wind project.
Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project will consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” he said.
The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles off the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.
The U.S. Wind farm proposal included 187 turbines, which will create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.
The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich said. U.S. Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.
There are reportedly about two million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.
While the U.S. Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.
Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the U.S. Wind project to be moved five miles farther from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.
Lars Thaaning, the coCEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.
Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market [for offshore wind in America] if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.
The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.
Don Murphy, a Catonsville resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.
Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.
“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.
Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.
“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just [receive] the benefits?”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.
“I believe we should move forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”
Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.
James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable [states] in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.
“Maryland can be a central hub,” he said, during his March 30 testimony.
Morgan Folger, an environment and health fellow for Environment Maryland, testified March 30 that she believed the United States as a whole was behind the curve when it comes to wind energy and that Maryland should take the steps to expand the industry in the country.
“We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water,” Folger said. “We’re all equally impacted by the pollution.”