Controversy Escalates Over Viewshed for Maryland Offshore Wind Farms

With two wind projects moving closer to construction less then 20 nautical miles off the coast of Maryland, parties concerned about the wind projects’ viewshed have started to take action.

Last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill for FY18 that blocks the use of federal funds to conduct reviews of site assessments or construction and operation plans for wind turbines less than 24 nautical miles from the state of Maryland shoreline, according to Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD).

Harris introduced the amendment, called the Offshore Wind Energy Act.

In May, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits (OREC) to two projects to be built in Maryland waters.

US Wind is developing a 248-MW project about 12 nautical miles offshore. It will have 62 turbines and cost an estimated $1.4 billion, the PSC said in its May 11 order approving the ORECs. SkipJack is developing a 120-MW project about 17 nautical miles offshore. The project will have 15 turbines and cost an estimated $720 million, the PSC said.

In a July 18 statement, Harris said: “If construction of these turbines too close to the shoreline will reduce property value or tourism, then the turbines may cause more issues than they solve.”

The PSC’s approval of the two projects came after a five-months-long state proceeding to review the two project applications from US Wind and Skipjack. The projects are located in a Maryland Wind Energy Area (WEA) approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under the Obama Administration. Maryland’s WEA is 10 nautical miles off the coast of Maryland at its closest point.

The PSC noted viewshed issues in its order, saying that the definition of a qualified offshore wind project under the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act (2013) calls for projects to be located on the outer continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean, between 10 and 30 miles off the coast of Maryland.

The state provisions for siting, coupled with the new federal provision, provides only a six-nautical-mile window in which wind farms could now be sited.

During the PSC’s review, a witness for US Wind indicated that, in light of public concerns over the viewshed of US Wind’s project, it would be possible to locate the company’s proposed project closer to the eastern edge of the Maryland WEA (see map) to reduce the visual impact. Doing so, however, would be costly, according to the order. Those costs, ultimately, would increase the potential cost of energy for Maryland’s ratepayers.

Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Area. Credit: BOEM

In its order, the PSC acknowledged the potential controversy that could ensue regarding viewshed of the proposed projects.

“[W]e are cognizant that [this] order is not the final hurdle that either applicant must overcome prior to the construction of their respective offshore wind projects,” the PSC said in the order. “Indeed, the multitude of additional regulatory reviews that will be conducted by the federal government before either project could begin construction were the subject of extensive discussions during our evidentiary hearings.”

The PSC added that further consultation and environmental review processes that are undertaken when BOEM receives a site assessment plan or construction and operations plan, and BOEM’s approval of those plans will be contingent on completion of a National Environmental Policy Act review.

In the order, therefore, the PSC concluded that, since its concerns about viewshed would be assuaged by opportunities for stakeholder feedback through the environmental review process, it conditioned its approval of the projects on several measures to safeguard the public interest.

Among those measures, is the condition that the developers use “the best commercially-reasonable efforts to minimize the viewshed impacts of their respective projects, regardless of the outcome of the federal review process.” The PSC considered that condition to include a requirement for US Wind to locate its project in the eastern-most portion of the Maryland WEA that could reasonable accommodate the project.

The Appropriations Committee on July 18 approved the FY18 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill covering, among other things, funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and the Indian Health Service. The bill provides $31.4 billion in funds, according to the committee.

The Offshore Wind Energy Act was adopted by the committee via a voice vote.

Lead image: Ocean City, Maryland. Credit: Bernt Rostad | Flickr

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Jennifer Delony, analyst for TransmissionHub, started her career as a B2B news editor in the local and long-distance telecommunications industries in the '90s. Jennifer began covering renewable energy issues at the local level in 2005 and covered U.S. and Canadian utility-scale wind energy as editor of North American Windpower magazine from 2006-2009. She also provides analysis for the oil and natural gas sectors as editor of Oilman Magazine.

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