ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation's largest offshore wind farm.
The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build wind turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are 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 put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission's Communications Director Tori Leonard.
Maryland is required to produce a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they 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 approved 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.
If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US 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 US Wind's being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, 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 2017 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 believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.
Opponents are 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.
Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland's Capital News Service 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.
Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.
"I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this," Lewis said earlier this month. "I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air."
On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.
The US 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 US Wind project.
Deepwater Wind's Skipjack project would 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," Plummer said.
The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company's website.
The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would 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 told the University of Maryland's Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.
There are reportedly about 2 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 US 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 US Wind project to be moved five miles further 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 co-CEO 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, Maryland, 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 more 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."
Leonard confirmed the last date for the commission to decide to approve one or both projects is May 17.