OCEAN CITY — In a bit of a surprise move for a couple of reasons, including the timing, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) on Thursday announced it had approved both proposed offshore wind projects off Ocean City’s coast.
The PSC announced on Thursday it had approved both the US Wind, Inc. proposal, which will put 62 turbines as close as 12-17 miles from the coast of the resort in its first phase, and Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project, which is considerably smaller in scale at 15 turbines as close as 17-21 miles off the coast.
The thinking all along was the PSC would pick one or the other, but Councilman Tony DeLuca last week warned his colleagues the regulatory agency could choose to approve both and that scenario played out on Thursday. The timing was also surprising because it has been said for weeks the decision would be made by May 17 and the final approvals were handed down on Thursday almost a full week earlier.
The PSC decision comes just a week after the Mayor and Council fired off another strongly worded letter to the regulatory agency expressing a desire to have the offshore turbines sited at least 26 miles off the coast, or a distance determined to far enough out to have a zero visual impact from the shoreline.
The PSC on Thursday acknowledged Ocean City’s deep concerns about the ability to see the turbines from the shore and the impact those views could have on tourism and aesthetics. However, the PSC added no specific conditions on the distance of the wind farms from the shore, instead leaving it rather open-ended.
“We certainly recognize that there is strong public demand to make sure that sightlines to the turbines, particularly from Ocean City, are minimized to the fullest extent possible,” said PSC Commissioner Anthony O’Donnell. “As a condition of our order, US Wind is required to locate its project as far to the east, or away from the shoreline, of the designated wind energy area (WEA) as practical. Each developer also must take advantage of the best commercially-available technology to lessen the views of the wind turbines by beach-goers and residents, both during the day and at night.”
While the PSC did recognize Ocean City’s concerns, it appears the rather nebulous conditions will fall short of the town’s desire to site the turbines at least 26 miles off the resort’s coast with clauses such as “minimized to the fullest extent possible” and “as far to the east as practical.”
When US Wind presented its project to the Mayor and Council earlier this spring, the original proposal called for locating the first line of turbines as close as 12 miles due east of the coast of the resort, but after concerns were raised, US Wind offered to move the first line of turbines back five more miles. The Skipjack project calls for just 15 turbines starting at 20 miles off the coast, but they are considerably taller.
In addition, the Skipjack project area is situated more off the coast of Delaware with the first row of turbines 20 miles from the north end of Ocean City and 30 miles from the Inlet and downtown area. However, in the fact sheets for both projects approved by the PSC on Thursday, the US Wind project would be sited 12-15 miles off the coast and the Skipjack project would be sited 17-21 miles off the coast.
Technically, the PSC on Thursday awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs) to both projects, allowing them to proceed on parallel courses. According to the fact sheets, the US Wind project could be in operation as soon as January 2020, while the Skipjack project could be operational by November 2022.
Each comes with steep price tags with the US Wind project at an estimated $1.4 billion and the Skipjack project coming in at an estimated $720 million. When both developers pitched their projects to the Mayor and Council last month, each estimated the cost of connecting the offshore wind turbines to substations on land at $1 million per mile, which explains their reluctance to move the turbines further back into the respective WEAs. However, moving the turbines back 10 miles, for example, would add $10 million to the project cost, which is no small amount, but relatively inexpensive on a $1.4 billion project.
On the upside, the PSC believes its decision will position Maryland as a national leader in offshore wind energy. The approval of both projects will result in a combined 368 megawatts of capacity, yield over $1.8 billion of in-state spending, spur the creation of almost 9,700 direct and indirect jobs and contribute $74 million in state tax revenues over the next 20 years.
“The approval today of the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind projects brings to fruition the General Assembly’s efforts to establish Maryland as a regional hub for this burgeoning industry,” said PSC Chairman W. Kevin Hughes. “We have taken great care to ensure this decision maximizes economic and environmental benefits to the state while minimizing costs to Maryland ratepayers.”