The Maryland Public Service Commission is reconsidering the impact offshore wind turbines could have on Ocean City tourism, calling developers’ new plans to build windmills more than 800 feet tall a “material” change from their initial proposals.
The panel announced Friday it will hold a public hearing Jan. 18 somewhere on the Eastern Shore. Officials said discussion would be limited to potential consequences of the larger turbines, more than 200 feet taller than older models, and that they would not reconsider its 2017 decision to let the projects collect subsidies from utility ratepayers across Maryland.
Ocean City leaders have raised concerns that the sight of turbines on the horizon could drive beachgoers to visit other summer resorts, saying tourists come for undisturbed ocean and sunrise views.
Commissioners did not say what, if any, changes to the wind farms it could direct based on any comments it receives at the meeting. Its order noted that the two companies developing wind farms off Maryland’s Atlantic coast, U.S. Wind and Skipjack, both said that using larger, more powerful turbines could lead them to build fewer than originally planned.
State law lays out the offshore area in which the developers can build, and the commission’s 2017 order blessing the projects encouraged the developers to build as far from shore as possible. But the panel did not dictate any details regarding number of turbines or their distance from shore.
U.S. Wind, whose project would be due east of Ocean City, said it plans to build 32 turbines as much as 800 feet tall, 17 miles from the beach at the closest. It had previously planned to build twice as many 541-foot turbines.
The Skipjack farm, to the north of the U.S. Wind project, plans to build 15 turbines 860 feet tall and at least 20 miles from the coast. It initially proposed building turbines 640 feet tall; it has not changed its plans for the number of turbines in the project.
The industry is moving toward larger turbines because they can reach stronger winds high off the ground and produce more energy. Plus, increasing the power capacity of one windmill can mean fewer of them need to be built, reducing installation and maintenance costs.
A spokesman for U.S. Wind declined to comment but said company officials would attend the hearing.
Joy Weber, development manager for Skipjack owner Ørsted, said in a statement officials were pleased the commission rejected requests for more broad reconsideration of the project, acknowledging that its visual and environmental impact still face federal review through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“We stand ready to participate in the PSC’s limited public hearing on our plan to use the best commercially available turbine technology for Skipjack, a project that will bring millions of dollars of economic impact to Maryland and Delaware,” she said.