When the House Appropriations Committee approved the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 on Tuesday, it also OK’d an amendment opposing the development of offshore wind in Maryland.
Introduced by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., the amendment, citing “viewscape” concerns, “blocks the use of federal funds to conduct reviews of site assessment or construction and operation plans” for wind projects situated fewer than 24 nautical miles from Maryland’s shore.
“Ocean City’s economy heavily relies on its real estate and tourism sectors, and there has not yet been a proper examination on whether construction of these wind turbines will have a negative economic impact on the community,” Harris states in a press release. “If construction of these turbines too close to the shoreline will reduce property value or tourism, then the turbines may cause more issues than they solve.”
Harris also points to the state’s Offshore Wind Energy Act (OWEA), which “guarantees that ratepayers across Maryland cannot be asked to contribute funds to a proposed project that does not ensure positive economic, environmental and health benefits to the state.”
In May, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs) to US Wind and Deepwater Wind affiliate Skipjack Offshore Energy to finance their proposed offshore wind projects. The ORECs were created through OWEA, signed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2013 in an effort to establish a framework for the development of wind off the state’s coast.
However, the congressman claims that neither developer has “provided evidence that [its] project will result in the positive benefits that the OWEA outlines.”
According to Deepwater Wind, the Skipjack Wind Farm would be situated “19.5 miles away from its closest point in Maryland and 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier.” The US Wind project is proposed 12 miles off the Ocean City coast, but the developer has made efforts to address concerns about the facility’s visual impact, including considering moving it as many as five miles east.
Back when the PSC awarded the ORECs, Commissioner Anthony O’Donnell stated, “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. As a condition of our order, US Wind is required to locate its project as far to the east (away from the shoreline) of the designated wind energy area as practical. Each developer also must take advantage of the best commercially available technology to lessen views of the wind turbines by beachgoers and residents, both during the day and at night.”
In December 2013, Harris spoke out against Maryland’s planned offshore wind lease auction, as well. He claimed that offshore wind would “increase utility costs for every family in Maryland” and “increase our federal deficit through federal taxpayer subsidies to big offshore wind energy companies, some even managed by political insiders like the governor’s former chief of staff.”
According to the House Appropriations Committee, Harris’ amendment was adopted through a voice vote. The full appropriations bill, approved by a vote of 30-21, includes funding for the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Indian Health Service, and “various independent and related agencies.”