Md. approves world’s largest turbines after NIMBY protests

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2020

The largest offshore wind turbines on the market stand 853 feet, with the sweep of their blades covering the surface area of seven football fields.

And despite a fight with local politicians in eastern Maryland, the state’s first offshore wind farm will deploy those machines, following a decision by the Maryland Public Service Commission yesterday.

The decision marks a win for the Danish offshore wind developer Ørsted A/S, which had sought to update its plans for the Skipjack offshore wind development to include use of General Electric Co.’s 12-megawatt Haliade-X turbines.

Opponents of the large machines had wanted to block the update, saying it would blemish the landscape and accusing Ørsted of failing to work with locals.

The commission ruled that Ørsted’s contract with the state had “contemplated the possibility of larger, more advanced turbines” and remained in good standing. But commissioners agreed the company had failed to engage with locals and mandated closer collaboration.

The 120-MW Skipjack project would lie 19 miles off the coast of Delaware, at the Maryland border. The company plans to put the wind farm into operation by 2023.

Skipjack has always had some detractors concerned about the visual impact from shore, but when Ørsted — and a neighboring wind development even closer to the Maryland coast — tried to update the turbine size, locals protested.

At a public hearing in January, hundreds of people packed a convention center in Ocean City, with most opposed to the bigger turbines. They demanded that the turbines be built farther out from shore or not at all (Energywire, Jan. 24). Speakers in opposition included Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.).

Ørsted argued that in addition to its right under contract to update technology, the more efficient turbines likely meant there would be fewer of them impeding the view.

In its ruling yesterday, the commission chastised Ørsted for leaving Ocean City in the dark on the new turbine design due to its antagonistic views on the project.

“Skipjack’s duty to reach out to stakeholders was not contingent on the stakeholders’ enthusiasm for the Project,” it wrote yesterday.

A bigger trend

The wind developer is now required to engage regularly with the town and other stakeholders and report back to the commission on its progress every six months, detailing when and where it met and what was discussed, “until ordered to discontinue.”

An Ørsted spokesman said in a statement yesterday that the company was pleased by Maryland commissioners’ decision.

“The project will continue to engage with all stakeholders on creating a project that all Marylanders can be proud of,” wrote Gabriel Martinez, with Ørsted. “We look forward to continuing our work in delivering clean and reliable energy to over 35,000 homes in the Delmarva region.”

The Maryland turbine argument reflects a trend in the burgeoning offshore sector, where developers are turning to bigger and broader turbines in order to capture what proponents see as greater efficiencies (Climatewire, Aug. 5, 2019).

The United States has two offshore wind facilities, both small-scale pilot projects. But Skipjack is among several in the development stage.

The growth is driven in part by states, from Maryland to Maine, that have set renewable energy goals as part of broader decarbonization commitments to address climate change.

Maryland has two offshore wind projects qualifying for offshore credits, Skipjack and U.S. Wind Inc.’s MarWin project.

U.S. Wind has also sought to upgrade its turbine plans but has yet to settle on a specific turbine size or model. Accordingly, the state has not yet held an evidentiary hearing on U.S. Wind, which holds a federal lease beginning just 10 miles from the Maryland shore.