Dozens of energy-generating wind turbines could soon be arriving on an 80,000-acre stretch off of Maryland shores.
After six months of analysis, Maryland Public Service Commission today approved two companies’ plans to build the United States’ second- and third-ever wind farms. In a release, the commission touted the approval as a move positioning the Free State to become “a national leader in offshore wind energy.”
“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 commission chairman W. Kevin Hughes in a statement.
The commission moved the projects along by granting two companies, U.S. Wind, Inc. and Skipjack Offshore Energy, LLC, offshore renewable energy credits toward their projects. The two sets of turbines will be able to generate 368 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, the commission said, and will create as many as 9,700 direct and indirect jobs, with a projected $74 million in added tax revenues over the next two decades.
Maryland officials laid out the framework for this to happen in 2013 by enacting the Offshore Energy Wind Act. The law set a limit on how much these projects could raise Maryland energy customers’ monthly bills, capping the increase at $1.50 per month.
Marylanders concerned about uncontrolled increases in electric bills will see little of that problem, according to figures from the commission. Under the plans moving forward now, the commission says the increase to customers would be less than $1.40 per month, or about $17 per year.
U.S. Wind’s project will be a set of 62 turbines between 12 and 15 miles his off the coast of Ocean City, while Skipjack Offshore Energy’s will be a set of 15 turbines between 17 and to 21 miles from land.
“This decision cements Maryland as a first-mover,” said U.S. Wind’s director of project development Paul Rich in a statement. “We will now be the epicenter of this exciting new industry for decades to come.”
Skipjack holds the title of being the first to bring wind energy to the States. The company runs a five-turbine wind farm off of Block Island in Rhode Island, and is also aiming to build new ones off the coast of Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard and other parts of New England, in addition to this project in Maryland.
The commission said U.S. Wind’s turbines should be operational by January 2020, and Skipjack’s by November 2022.
Environmental advocates cheered the commission’s decision.
“These wind farms will be truly pioneering facilities, leading Maryland and the nation toward a 21st century economy that combats climate change and creates jobs in droves at the same time,” said Chesapeake Climate Action Network executive director Mike Tidwell in a statement.
In anticipation of the decision, Baltimore City Council members voted on Monday to unanimously support a resolution backing the projects on the Maryland coast. Councilwoman Sharon Greene Middleton, who introduced the resolution, wasn’t available to comment Wednesday.
The text of her measure read, in part, “These proposals offer the creation of a Maryland-based manufacturing hub for the wind industry that will bring significant economic benefits to the State and the City of Baltimore while also displacing polluting sources of energy and helping Maryland achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
Under the commission’s terms, the companies have to do more than just build their turbines. If they accept, the firms will need to create at least 4,997 positions in development, construction and operations, invest at least $76 million into a Maryland steel fabrication plant and put $39.6 million toward upgrades for the Tradepoint Atlantic shipyard in Sparrows Point.
To try to avoid any snafus like the ones surrounding Maryland’s nascent medical cannabis industry, the commission also has required both firms to set aside investment and construction opportunities for minorities.
Additionally, the companies must mitigate any visual changes to and from the shoreline by placing the turbines as far east from the wind energy area as possible, and by using “the best commercially-available technology to lessen views of the wind turbines by beach-goers and residents, both during the day and at night,” according to a statement from commission member Anthony O’Donnell.
The agreement lets the firms to sell their newly granted renewable energy credits, valued at about $140 per megawatt-hour, to energy suppliers. Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requires energy firms to purchase enough credits to supply 25 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
U.S. Wind and Skipjack have until May 25 to accept the terms laid out by the Public Service Commission. Federal regulators still need to approve the companies’ plans before they can start building.
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