(March 31, 2017) More than 100 people spent about four hours at Stephen Decatur Middle School during one of the nicest Saturday afternoons in recent memory to give Public Service Commission representatives their thoughts on the two wind farms proposed off the coast of Ocean City.
More than 30 people gave testimony during the afternoon, with most comments favoring any offshore project, while only four offered criticism.
One of the people giving the project a lukewarm reception was Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, who said he had only just seen visual representations of what the finished farms might look like from the coast.
“I do support the initiative,” Meehan began. “I met with both US Wind and Skipjack to talk about their companies and the project, but I hadn’t seen the renderings.”
Meehan said there was more visual impact on the views than he anticipated.
“I support the jobs and revenue but I am concerned,” he said.
Meehan cautioned commission members not to jeopardize what the resort already provides the state, particularly in tax revenues, by adding something to the coastline that could detract from that value.
“We need to find the ways to mitigate the visual pollution,” he said.
Only one member of the audience agreed with him, Don Murphy of Catonsville, who said he intended to retire in Ocean City.
Murphy described the renderings, provided by the respective companies, as “horrifying.” He also referred to a wind project in Rhode Island managed by Deepwater Wind, parent company of Skipjack.
Murphy said the windmill’s impact on Ocean City’s views would have economic ramifications, and the jobs created by offshore wind would not replace the jobs lost because the view issue.
About a dozen placards were provided to approximate the views in both Ocean City and Bethany Beach after full build-out of each project.
However, only one of these projects can be built as is, Tori Leonard, public information officer for the commission, said. The commissioners would have to recommend, and the companies would have to accept, changes to approve both projects at once.
Viewers were asked to stand about two feet away when viewing the renderings, and from this vantage point there was no single turbine in view that couldn’t be covered by a thumbnail. From the shore, according to the renderings, the entire emplacement of the turbines would best be described in inches, rather than meters or yards.
Another commenter, Chuck Lacey from Ocean Pines, worried over increased costs to ratepayers.
According to a statement read by PSC chair W. Kevin Hughes at the start of the meeting, the US Wind offshore project is expected to increase electric bills by about 97 cents per month, while the Skipjack proposal is expecting a 43 cent per month increase.
Both projects are expected to begin operation in 2020.
The last bit of criticism came at the end of the meeting via Dr. Dan Ervin, a faculty member of Salisbury University in the economics and finance department. He said the outlay of fossil fuel electric to sustain offshore wind projects wasn’t the way to go. The only option to create the volume of power needed with the least amount of greenhouse gas generation is the fourth generation of nuclear power plants, he said.
All the other speakers favored the projects, the prospective jobs increase and the ability to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.
However, many if not most of those speakers came from areas outside of Worcester, and several were keen to set up facilities to manufacture and maintain the wind farms, but in Wicomico County.
Also present were union members from various locals in a variety of trades looking to land jobs in the industry, if not necessarily on either of these projects. Several other outside business owners made the same argument.
Sen. Jim Mathias spoke in favor of the project, and reminded the commissioners to ensure that economic benefits of an offshore facility remain in the state. Del. Mary Beth Carozza was present, but did not speak.
The PSC will decide on the proposals no later than May 17.
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