Law­maker puts new bar­rier in path of Md. wind en­ergy

House mea­sure aims to push project far­ther out to sea off Ocean City

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - MARY­LAND BY RACHEL SIEGEL rachel.siegel@wash­post.com

At least one of two off­shore wind projects ap­proved by Mary­land util­ity reg­u­la­tors in May could be in jeop­ardy af­ter an amend­ment spon­sored by Rep. Andy Har­ris (R-Md.) that seeks to push the tur­bines far­ther from the coast was ap­proved by the U.S. House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee in the past week.

The amend­ment would block the use of fed­eral funds to con­duct re­views of site assess­ments or con­struc­tion plans for any tur­bines closer than 24 nau­ti­cal miles from the shore­line — fund­ing that of­fi­cials from one of the projects said is cru­cial to ex­e­cut­ing the pro­gram.

In May, the Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion ap­proved sub­si­dies for two projects off the coast of Ocean City — man­aged by U.S. Wind and Skip­jack Off­shore En­ergy — that would be the largest of their kind in the coun­try.

The U.S. Wind project in­volves at least 41 tur­bines lo­cated at least 17 miles from shore, while the 15 Skip­jack tur­bines would be sited at least 19.5 miles from shore and 26 miles from the Ocean City Pier, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s web­site.

Har­ris, whose district in­cludes Ocean City, said the amend­ment was nec­es­sary to pro­tect sea­side views and prop­erty val­ues. But Paul Rich, direc­tor of project de­vel­op­ment for U.S. Wind, said the amend­ment “ef­fec­tively kills the project.”

The shape and size of U.S. Wind’s lease plot would al­low for no more than two tur­bines more than 24 miles off­shore, as op­posed to the dozens slated un­der the orig­i­nal project, Rich said. He added that the amend­ment negates months of ne­go­ti­a­tions and con­ver­sa­tions with Ocean City of­fi­cials.

“As long as this project is to be in ser­vice by 2020, we needed review of this con­struc­tion per­mit next year,” Rich said.

A spokesman for Deep­wa­ter Wind, the de­vel­oper be­hind the Skip­jack project, de­clined to com­ment.

Har­ris, the only Repub­li­can rep­re­sent­ing Mary­land in Congress, is known for block­ing laws he op­poses in the District, in­clud­ing the city’s pro-mar­i­juana ini­tia­tives and the “Death with Dig­nity” leg­is­la­tion.

In this case, Har­ris is seek­ing to al­ter projects that were ap­proved by the pub­lic ser­vice com­mis­sion af­ter six years of pub­lic de­bate and hear­ings, and ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly.

In its ap­proval or­der, the com­mis­sion cited over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port for the wind farms, which are pro­jected to cre­ate more than 9,000 jobs and es­tab­lish Mary­land as a front-run­ner in the grow­ing U.S. off­shore wind-en­ergy in­dus­try.

But Har­ris said the plans ig­nored the con­cerns of Ocean City Mayor Richard Mee­han and oth­ers in the coastal re­sort town about the vis­i­bil­ity of the tur­bines.

“There was great con­cern that this com­pany wasn’t work­ing with Ocean City in mak­ing this project ac­cept­able with re­gard to the height of the wind­mills and the view from the shore,” Har­ris said. “I’m in fa­vor of the wind project as long as they come to an agree­ment with Ocean City.”

Amelia Chasse, a spokes­woman for Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R), de­clined to com­ment Fri­day on Har­ris’s amend­ment.

But Chasse noted that the Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion weighed in on the is­sue in April, sup­port­ing sub­si­dies for the Skip­jack project but de­clin­ing to back sub­si­dies for U.S. Wind’s project, in part be­cause of con­cerns about its prox­im­ity to land.

“The [Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion] made a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion, as is their abil­ity as an in­de­pen­dent board, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion was on record with our po­si­tion dur­ing that process, and our po­si­tion has not changed,” Chasse said.

When it ap­proved the sub­si­dies, the com­mis­sion es­ti­mated that the off­shore wind projects would re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions by 19,000 tons per year for 20 years.

“It’s got an over­whelm­ingly deep and trans­par­ent ex­am­i­na­tion by the pub­lic,” said Mike Tid­well, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work. He called Har­ris “a leg­is­la­tor who is wildly out of step with the ma­jor­ity will of Mary­lan­ders.”

Mike Dunn, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Greater Sal­is­bury Com­mit­tee — a non­profit mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing busi­nesses, non­profit en­ti­ties and civic in­sti­tu­tions — said Har­ris’s amend­ment un­der­mines Mary­land’s prospects as a front-run­ner in the de­vel­op­ment of off­shore wind en­ergy on the At­lantic Coast and is a fear­ful re­sponse to an un­likely de­cline in prop­erty val­ues.

“I’ve lived here my en­tire life,” Dunn said. “I don’t see a mass ex­o­dus of peo­ple sell­ing their prop­erty, nor do I see a con­tin­gent of Mary­land res­i­dents sud­denly go­ing to New Jersey beaches be­cause there are tur­bines off the coast of Ocean City. Re­spect­fully, I don’t be­lieve that’s the case.”

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