Maryland Regulators OK Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Plan

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ/AP) — Maryland regulators on Thursday approved plans for the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind projects, saying the decision will position the state to be a leader in the developing industry.

Maryland is set to become the “Silicon Valley” of the offshore wind industry.

The Maryland Public Service Commission awarded renewable energy credits for two projects off Maryland’s Eastern Shore near Ocean City. The PSC says the decision allows U.S. Wind of Baltimore and Skipjack Offshore Energy, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind, to build a total of 368 megawatts of capacity.

Those projects significantly outrank by size the nation’s sole offshore wind farm known as Block Island off Rhode Island. That farm, which is owned by Deepwater Wind, has only five turbines and a 30-megawatt capacity.

U.S. Wind’s proposal is to build 62 turbines between 12 and 15 nautical miles offshore to generate 248 megawatts. It will cost an estimated $1.4 billion to build. Skipjack’s plan is for 15 turbines between 17 and 21 miles offshore to produce 120 megawatts. It will cost about $720 million to build.

The power generated is expected to alleviate congestion of the power grid from other sources of imported electricity and ultimately powering thousands of home with renewable energy.

“This is an epic watershed moment for the state of Maryland to usher in a whole new industry that’s going to create over 5000 jobs and $16 billion of net export economy over the next 20 years,” said Paul Rich, director of project development for U.S. Wind.

“The approval today of the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind projects brings to fruition the General Assembly’s efforts to establish Maryland as a regional hub for this burgeoning industry,” said W. Kevin Hughes, the commission chairman.

The Maryland General Assembly approved a regulatory framework for offshore wind in 2013, after repeated efforts by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

The plan comes at some cost for electricity ratepayers, once electricity is produced by the wind farms. The commission says the impact on utility bills is expected to be less than $1.40 a month for residential customers and less than 1.4 percent on the annual bills of commercial and industrial customers, according to the commission’s independent consultant, Levitan & Associates.

U.S. Wind’s project is expected to be operational in early 2020.

“This decision cements Maryland as a first-mover — we will now be the epicenter of this exciting new industry for decades to come,” Rich said.

Skipjack estimates opening its operation near the end of 2022.

The PSC said the two projects are expected to yield more than $1.8 billion of in-state spending. The agency says the projects are estimated to create nearly 9,700 new and direct jobs and contribute $74 million in state tax revenues over 20 years.

The PSC’s decision is contingent on approval by the federal government of the developers’ site assessment plans, as well as construction and operations plans.

The plan includes a focus on developing port facilities in the Baltimore area and Ocean City. It calls for developers to invest at least $76 million in a steel fabrication plant in Maryland and at least $39.6 million for upgrades at Baltimore County’s Tradepoint Atlantic shipyard, formerly Sparrows Point.

The projects is of concern for some, ranging from how the turbines might impact oceanfront views and the catch of the day.

“Sea bass, possibly dolphins and other species that congregate around the turbines and will we be able to actually access those turbines to target those species?” says fisherman Wes Pollit.

Some environmentalists say the pros outweigh the cons.

“This is a great opportunity for Maryland to take a big step forward in reducing carbon emissions,” Matt Heim says.

There is some cost that will be passed on to rate payers, but project officials say the fees will be offset by the savings the energy will eventually produce.

The two companies have until May 25 to accept a set of conditions that have to do with a certain level of job creation and investment.

Commissioner Michael Richard said the wind farms will “enables us to meet our clean, renewable energy goals using energy generated within the state while conditioning our approval on holding project developers to their promises of creating jobs and spurring economic growth.”

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(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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