The Public Service Commission will hold a hearing regarding the change in wind turbine size at the 40th Street convention center on Saturday, Jan. 18. 

Turbine height switch, but nothing else, will be on PSC’s agenda

(Jan. 10, 2020) The Maryland Public Service Commission announced last Tuesday that it has chosen the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on 40th Street as the location for a wind turbine public hearing set for noon, Saturday, Jan. 18.

The hearing is part of an inquiry into a change in wind tower size, and its potential impact on Ocean City’s view of the horizon.

“The commission considered several sites with a goal of a location that was both available for most of the day, and could accommodate a large number of people,” said Tori Leonard, Public Service Commission communications director. “The convention center was the optimum choice, particularly since it is so close to the viewshed area.” 

On June 4, 2019, Skipjack, owned by Ørsted, reported to the commission that it would be changing its original tower selection in favor of the 853-foot-tall GE Haliade-X 12 MW — 200 feet taller than the towers in the original proposal.

Then, in October, U.S. Wind, the other wind farm company, reported that the turbine it had originally proposed, the 4 Siemens SWT 13o, was no longer commercially available, so it would be considering alternatives that would be taller than the original 502 feet. 

This change in tower height alarmed resort officials, who have strongly opposed wind farm projects that would be visible from shore. They have argued that the towers would cause visual pollution if they are not located at least 33 miles off the coast. 

In response to Skipjack and U.S. Wind’s report, the Public Service Commission issued a notice for public comment on Oct. 25 regarding the changes, and approved Ocean City’s petition for an inquiry on Dec. 13. 

“The Commission finds that the proposed changes in turbine models and size by U.S. Wind and Skipjack constitute material changes to both companies’ qualified offshore wind projects. Accordingly, the Commission grants Ocean City’s request for a hearing to consider the impacts that may result from the change in turbine models,” the Dec. 13 letter stated. 

U.S. Wind contended the larger turbines would result in fewer turbines further offshore, while Skipjack stated the new model was more efficient and remained consistent with its testimony during the original proceeding. 

The city attempted to have the commission reopen and reconsider the issuance of renewable energy credits to the projects made in May 2017, but the commission denied the city’s request, saying the hearing will focus solely on the change in tower size. 

“The Commission does not find it necessary or appropriate to reopen Case No. 9431 or reconsider Order No. 88192. Accordingly, Ocean City’s request to reopen the proceedings … and reconsider and/or revise … is denied,” the Dec. 13 letter stated. 

Nonetheless, city officials see the inquiry as a blessing and the last chance it will get to keep the resort’s views of the Atlantic uncluttered.

“We support clean energy and the economic benefits associated with these projects, but not at the cost of our future,” Mayor Rick Meehan told Ocean City Today previously. “We continue to request that these gigantic turbines — now over 600 feet in height and 2.5 times the height of the tallest building in Ocean City — be moved further off of our coast. This can be done, and we will only get one chance to get this right.” 

Although city officials will have the opportunity to address the issue during the public hearing, the city on Dec. 26, filed another petition requesting to be considered an active participant, rather than an interested party in order to gain a more direct role in the inquiry process. 

“If the Commission were to grant Ocean City intervention into the inquiry, it would have status as a party to the proceeding (the inquiry),” Leonard said. “This would give the city certain rights, including conducting discovery, making filings (briefs, motions) etc. If evidentiary hearings were to be scheduled — and none are at this time — the city would be entitled to file and present testimony and to cross-examine witnesses.” 

At the moment, the city gets copies of filings and orders as a third party, according to City Engineer Terry McGean, and the resort is much more of a spectator than an active player. 

As of Wednesday, Jan. 8, the Public Service Commission has not made a decision on the city’s latest petition.

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