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Ocean City, Worcester County officials continue opposing offshore wind legislation

Local officials have voiced fresh opposition to legislation that would facilitate the evaluation and approval of revised offshore wind projects off the area coast.

Wind turbines

Courtesy photo

By Bethany Hooper, Associate Editor

Officials in both Ocean City and Worcester County continue to oppose legislation that would facilitate the evaluation and approval of revised offshore wind projects.

Last week, the Worcester County Commissioners voted to send a letter opposing House Bill 1296, cross-filed with Senate Bill 1161, which would require the Maryland Public Service Commission, as of June 1, to open a revised round-two proceeding to evaluate certain offshore wind projects.

The measure also would authorize certain offshore wind projects to submit certain revised plans for project schedules, sizes, and pricing, including offshore wind renewable energy credit pricing, among other things.

“It’s a change, it’s allowing the wind farms to rebid,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said at the end of last Tuesday’s meeting. “With that will come higher numbers.”

In a Feb. 29 hearing before the House Economic Matters Committee, Del. C.T. Wilson (D-28), the bill’s sponsor, said its main objectives are to facilitate the evaluation and approval of revised offshore wind projects in rounds one and two and to set a clear target for achieving the state’s goal of 8,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2031.

While the state has passed legislation and set goals for renewable energy, he said economic challenges have hindered offshore wind developers’ ability to meet scheduling and pricing requirements set by Maryland law.

“One of the successful bidders in rounds one and two, US Wind, remains committed to working with us to overcome these challenges,” he told the committee. “Revisions outlined in House Bill 1296 seeks to streamline the approval process for revised project schedules and pricing, ensure the project is located in the authorized wind energy area, and those possessing offshore wind renewable energy credits can move forward expeditiously. Moreover, the bill does not restart the process for the projects. Merely, it allows limited alterations to already approved plans, including the adjustment to turbine placement, generating capacity, installation dates and pricing within the existing statutory limits.”

Wilson added that the proposed legislation does not increase the price of offshore wind beyond the statutory rate caps set within state law.

“The bill only exempts applicants from duplicative payments to the Maryland Offshore Wind Business Development Fund when seeking adjustments on round-two projects,” he said. “In conclusion, House Bill 1296 is essential in navigating the challenges facing offshore wind development in Maryland, while ensuring the state remains on track to meet its renewable energy targets.”

US Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said the legislation would assist the company in altering its project. He noted that as technology has progressed, turbines have become more efficient.

“We can produce more power today from the proposed project than we thought just a few years ago,” he said. “So that will allow us to essentially upsize our project, all while staying in the ratepayer caps the legislature set a number of years ago. So this is a good news story. These are some technical changes that will allow us to make a new submission to the Public Service Commission, allow us to put a larger project size in front of the commission, and allow us to proceed.”

Officials said the proposed legislation would not allow any windmills to be built outside of the company’s lease area. They noted, however, that new wind turbines are roughly 150 feet or so higher than what was originally planned.

For his part, Del. Chris Adams (R-37B) asked if the placement of wind turbines off the coast could also be revisited. He asked that language to that effect be added to the bill.

“One of the basic complaints is they’re putting these too close to the shoreline …,” he said. “I think we have a chance to revisit it. That’s all I’m asking.”

Wilson said a change in the placement of wind turbines could set the US Wind project back another five to seven years. He said the only reason the legislature was revisiting the evaluation and approval process was because one of the offshore wind developers, Ørsted, had pulled its project.

“We lost half of the power because Ørsted stepped out,” he said. “US Wind will hopefully bring at least a third of what Ørsted has left … It’s about being able to capture some of what has been lost.”

During the hearing, representatives with the Town of Ocean City expressed their concerns regarding the legislation. Mayor Rick Meehan said the bill would provide funding to support wind turbines as close as 11.5 miles off the resort’s coastline.

“This will destroy the viewshed off Ocean City forever,” he said. “Everything you want to accomplish would still be accomplished if turbines were located further to the east. All the jobs would still be created, all the investments in the Baltimore Harbor and Sparrows Point, all of the energy, everything would still be the same, nothing would change. Yet, we’ve been ignored for seven years.”

Ocean City Council Secretary Tony DeLuca said the town has shared its concerns regarding offshore wind since 2010. In addition to turbine sizes, he also touched on the project subsidy.

“HB 1296 as proposed gives US Wind the funding in the form of more expensive subsidies from Maryland ratepayers,” he said. “So, unlike most energy projects, where the larger the project the lower the energy cost, under HB 1296 the project gets bigger and the price goes up.”

Following the recent hearing, the commissioners last week agreed to send a letter of opposition to both the House and Senate regarding the proposed legislation. 

This story appears in the March 21, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.