The town of Ocean City's objections to two offshore wind farm proposals are getting an airing in Annapolis.
A new Maryland General Assembly bill would prohibit any turbines from being erected within 26 miles of the coast, mirroring a resolution that sailed through the Town Council last month.
The bill is likely to face stiff headwinds in the Democratically controlled legislature, which has backed several renewable energy initiatives in recent years. No Democrats have signed on to support the measure.
Identical House and Senate versions of the measure are scheduled to be debated in committee rooms next week.
Maryland law allows the projects to be constructed between 10-30 miles of the coast. That has drawn loud protests from Ocean City's tourism industry and officials, who say the structures will disrupt visitors' "pristine" views of the water.
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, R-38C-Worcester, said the state hasn't done enough to assuage the local community's concerns.
"Enough serious questions have been raised about jeopardizing the natural environment and the impact on our tourism industry" to justify pushing back the structures beyond "visible distance," she said.
That can't be done, the project's developers say.
U.S. Wind, Inc. is planning to initially build 32 turbines as close as 17 miles offshore. The company, a subsidiary of the Italian constructing firm Toto Holdings SpA, agreed last year to move the site back from 12 miles in response to Ocean City's concerns.
Meanwhile, Deepwater Wind is looking to construct 15 turbines in an area more than 19 miles northeast from the coast of Maryland.
Both leases underwent a "rigorous" state and federal process of environmental review and community outreach that addressed concerns like those raised by Ocean City's leaders, said Clint Plummer, Deepwater's vice president of development.
"It’s not really possible for the leases to be moved," he said. "There’s a long process that went into establishing them, and today they are a property right as much as the rent on your apartment or on your home.”
As one of America's first large-scale offshore wind developments, the $2 billion investment by both companies was bound to draw some pushback, Plummer said. But he countered that the town's visibility concerns are overstated, saying only the top of the blades will be seen from Ocean City's point of view.
He also questioned whether the measure could be applied to the existing projects.
The bill's language deals with decisions made by the state Public Service Commission. But the commission's governor-appointed board weighed in on the two projects last May, approving ratepayer subsidies aimed at offsetting the construction costs.
"From our initial read of the legislation, there appears to be some ambiguity about whether the bill would apply retroactively to PSC-approved projects, but we have not yet done a legal analysis on that issue," said Tori Leonard, a commission spokeswoman, in a statement.
Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, accuses the bill's sponsors of trying to kill the projects before they get off the seafloor.
“With an industry that’s investing a lot of money into Maryland, it does not send the right signals," Raettig said.
The Public Service Commission's final order is open to interpretation about how far the turbines should be built offshore, as Delegate Chris Adams, R-37B-Wicomico, sees it.
“I believe it’s a very realistic ask," he said of the bill.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up the bill Tuesday, while the House Economic Matters committee has a hearing set for Thursday.
Last year, Maryland lawmakers agreed to accelerate the state's transition to clean electricity, increasing the percentage of energy that must come from renewable sources from 20 percent in 2022 to 25 percent by 2020.
Two bills under debate this year would go even further, pushing the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030 or, alternatively, 100 percent by 2035.