Ocean City Today
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Wind farm distance bill killed but local fight isn’t quite over

Turbine size change could give officials another shot at protecting beach view
By Greg Ellison | Mar 15, 2018

 

(March 16, 2018) Although the current went against efforts in the General Assembly this week to push wind turbines farther offshore, Ocean City officials have pledged to continue its fight during the upcoming federal permit process.

HB1135 received an unfavorable report from the House Economic Committee on Monday by a 14-5 vote. The legislature held hearings on the house measure, as well as cross-filed senate legislation the previous week.

The bill would have altered distance requirements for turbines from between 10-30 nautical miles to not less than 26 nautical miles off the coast. A nautical mile equals 1.15  land miles.

The Maryland Public Service Commission issued conditional approvals last May for US Wind and Skipjack Wind to construct hundreds of turbines off the Ocean City coast. Both companies had earlier purchased wind energy area lease agreements through the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Delegate Christopher Adams (R-37), who sponsored the house measure, along with Delegates Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) and Charles Otto (R-38A), said regardless of that defeat in committee hearings, the battle has not yet been lost.

“The issue of siting the offshore wind turbines off Ocean City is far from over,” he said. “HB1135 is just the start of the legislative process to create a win-win for the State of Maryland and the companies that stand to gain from development of offshore wind energy.”

Speaking from the senate floor on Wednesday, Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) said the house committee’s unfavorable report effectively killed the bill.

“The house took a clear vote,” he said. “The issue legislatively in the General Assembly 2018 session appears to be dead.”

Mathias pledged to continue pushing for all sides to reach an amicable solution.

“The whole offshore wind concept has been under discussion for the better part of seven years,” he said.

In addition to the idea being vetted for three years in the General Assembly, Mathias said the Maryland Public Service Commission held a years-long quasi-judicial process prior to approving offshore wind leasing areas last May.

Mathias also credited the Maryland Energy Administration for creating programs to support wind industry projects on a bipartisan basis.

From his perspective, despite his bill garnering an unfavorable report, Adams said the House Economic Matters Committee hearing on March 8 might yield results.

“Critical testimony given by myself, and the Public Service Commission at the hearing, suggests that there will be further deliberation both at the state and federal level on distance of wind turbines off Maryland’s coast,” he said.

In reaction to the legislative roadblock, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan issued a letter on Monday thanking Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Hughes for his earlier testimony before the House Economic Matters Committee, where he highlighted another potential avenue for legal recourse.

“If US Wind proceeds to construct an 8 megawatt or larger tower, that would be considered a material change, which would require US Wind to come back to the Public Service Commission for permission and approval subject to a … hearing,” he said.

Adams noted prior to turbines being constructed, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has to issue permits.

“That process will include scoping review and public hearings that will include discussion of viewscape,” he said.

In terms of height and power ratings, Mathias said with US Wind approved for a project totaling 248 megawatts, jumping from 6 to 8 megawatts turbines would reduce the total number of structures built.

“If the view-shed is the concern, having more of them is not going to make it any better,” he said.

“They still have the federal process … to work through and I still strongly urge a working compromise between the parties.”

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