State to host na­tion’s largest off­shore wind farm

Two sys­tems OK’d for At­lantic wa­ters off Ocean City

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By CARA NEWCOMER Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

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.”

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