Maryland Approves Subsidies for Offshore Wind Farms

Initial plan rendering (courtesy U.S. Wind)

By MarEx 2017-05-15 11:37:32

On Thursday, Maryland's Public Service Commission approved ratepayer subsidies for two offshore wind projects off the coast of Ocean City. The subsidies allow the developers to sell renewable energy credits to Maryland's utilities, which are required to buy them, and will raise consumers' electrical bills by an estimated $1.40 per month. The PSC’s approval is essential to making the project economically viable, backers say, and it was the largest remaining obstacle to moving forward with construction.

If built, the projects would install a combined 77 turbines at a distance of 12 to 17 nm offshore. One of them – the 62-turbine U.S. Wind site – would be the biggest offshore wind farm in the United States, with a rated generating capacity of 250 MW. A later expansion phase could add over 100 turbines more. 

"For those of us in the industry, it is truly a historic watershed moment to have this decision," said Paul Rich, director of project development for U.S. Wind. "We're ready to get to work."

In a statement, the PSC suggested that it was not just approving two projects – it was setting precedent for a new economic development strategy. "The 'all-in' approach to offshore wind that we undertake today signals to our neighbors and the world that Maryland is ready to serve as a regional hub and a substantial base for additional offshore wind development up and down the East Coast, thus, yielding sustained job growth for many years to come," the PSC wrote.

As part of the deal, the developers will have to commit to a range of infrastructure investments, including $40 million for upgrades at the Tradepoint Atlantic shipyard and $75 million for a steel fabrication plant. The onshore projects are intended to form the basis of a new in-state supply chain for future offshore wind developments.

Viewshed concerns

Promoters suggest that the wind farms' clean power would supply electricity for up to 500,000 homes and provide hundreds of well-paid jobs, but some local residents are skeptical that the benefits are worth the aesthetic costs. The turbines would be within sight of the beach, a concern to Ocean City's town council, which has protested the "visual pollution" the wind farms would create. 

Council member Tony DeLuca told local media that the initial computer rendering of U.S. Wind’s proposal (above) soured his opinion of the new projects. "It's just horrifying looking at that picture," DeLuca said. "Nothing could replace the picture that I saw at that public hearing. To do anything to slight or hurt that view is ridiculous." 

The council would like U.S. Wind to move its project site further offshore, and last month the company acceded, offering to relocate the development about four nm further off the coast. The firm said in a letter that the new site would reduce the turbines' visibility by about one third. 

In an interview with the Baltimore Sun on Thursday, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan suggested that there was still room for improvement. "Wherever we have the opportunity, we will certainly make our case for relocating these particular projects to be further off shore,” he said.