Ocean City Today

US Wind CEO: 26 miles kills it

Toto says time for letters over, while face-to-face talks’ time has come
By Brian Gilliland | Mar 01, 2018
Photo by: Submitted photo US Wind CEO Riccardo Toto

(March 2, 2018) After a series of fiery letters between Ocean City officials and US Wind CEO Riccardo Toto debating the location, height and placement of offshore wind turbines, Toto this week said the time for letters is over and the time for face-to-face conversation has begun.

“We have been in regular communication with US Wind … Although we remain consistent in our position, and support the resolution passed by the council, we are certainly open to additional, constructive dialogue with US Wind representatives,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.

Toto said he would be meeting with representatives from the resort, including Meehan and members of the City Council today, Friday, when they are in Annapolis for a hearing on the special events zone bill that Ocean City wants passed.

The letters, he said, were useful in defining each side’s concerns and showed the perspectives of the people composing them. This, he felt, would lead to a solution.

The distance the turbines would be placed from shore is of primary concern to both resort and US Wind, with both sides marshaling forces to defend their points of view.

“The reality is we’re building 17miles from shore. That’s the magic number for now,” Toto said. “If the problem is seeing the turbines from the beach, the visibility is close to zero.”

Toto referred to Phase I of a three-phase installation. Additional turbines would eventually be placed closer to the resort shoreline. A previous proposal handled by a different company starting in 2010 had the turbines placed even closer, and US Wind moved them back as a concession to the city earlier in this process.

The city supported the earlier initiative, and Meehan, Council President Lloyd Martin and Council Secretary Mary Knight were members of the board at that time.

“To this day, US Wind continues to use the 17-mile distance as proof of their “willingness to compromise and work with the city” instead of honestly acknowledging that the 17-mile distance is only for the first phase of your project and US Wind fully intends to place turbines much closer to our shoreline,” City Engineer Terry McGean wrote in February.

Because of the shape of the leasing area, only a small portion lies 17 miles from shore. US Wind intends to install 90 turbines to generate the power it for which it was approved.

Also under scrutiny is the height of the turbines.  Included in the city’s arguments about visibility are the blades of the wind turbines, which take the total height to 650 feet above sea level. The nacelle generator that the blades are attached to will stand about 370 feet above the ocean surface.

The blades are meant to be in motion. Toto said the company estimates the blades will be spinning 53 percent of the time, which will result in variable visibility of the blades from 17 miles away.

Then there is the matter of moving the project 26 miles away, which has been proposed by the General Assembly, and is part of an amendment to the federal budget proposed by Rep. Andy Harris (R-1).

“If it’s moved to 26 miles, it will cost 7,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in economic impact to the area. It means someone is going to kill the project. It means someone is going to have to explain to 6,000 families that there’s no economic opportunity for them,” Toto said.

Also muddying the waters is who has a say over what in this debate. US Wind has an approval in hand from the state Public Service Commission to construct the project on a lease purchased from the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for $8.7 million in 2014.

That lease does not extend to the distance requested by the resort.

Behind the lease area is a shipping lane, and beyond that is open water — not evaluated or available for offshore wind leases.

“On one side we have the Ocean City mayor and on the other we have the Coast Guard. We’ve invested money, spent money and now we’re trying to solve this problem,” Toto said. “We don’t want to fight. We want to do our project in cooperation with the state.”

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