The first public hearing on the proposed wind farms off the coast of Ocean City and Delaware brought both praise and criticism from residents and business leaders.
The two companies, Deepwater Wind, responsible for the first American offshore wind project at Block Island, Rhode Island, and Baltimore’s US Wind, are both in the running to build farms approximately 17 miles off the coastline. US Wind’s 248 megawatt proposal off the coast of Ocean City, with a potential growth to 750 megawatts, would be the second, and largest, offshore wind farm in America. Deepwater’s “Skipjack,” project would clock in at 120 megawatts. Both have planned construction dates beginning in 2020, and with the projects moving forward, a Saturday March 25 hearing at Stephen Decatur Middle School gave locals, laborers and experts alike the chance to express their thoughts to the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Much of the comments saw the projects as hugely beneficial, both economically and ecologically.
The opportunity to establish Maryland as an offshore wind hub is an opportunity that only comes once, and something that needs to be seized, Salisbury’s Matt Drew of AWB Engineers said.
“We need this for the entire state,” Drew said. “We’re poised right now to become a leader in the industry. By having this, we have the ability to attract very large companies that could for all other projects across the country.”
Seth Bush of the Maryland Climate Coalition highlighted the ecological benefits of establishing the offshore wind farms.
“We have the chance to move away from fossil fuels which pollute the air, poison the water and make people sick,” Bush said.
While Bush noted that the establishment of these wind farms will not reverse the effects of climate change or fossil fuel pollution, it is a step in a direction which, if demonstrating a solid economic benefit, will inspire other states. Likewise, echoing Drew, should Maryland not go forward with the projects, the state could be missing a golden opportunity to corner the industry.
“When other states see the economic benefits, they will seize them,” Bush said,
However, not all in attendance were keen on the project. While Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan had supported the progress of project, US Wind’s renderings of what the Ocean City coastline will look like after construction has inspired him to rethink.
“There is a much larger visual impact than I had anticipated,” Meehan said. “We only have one chance to get this right, and if it stays the same visual I see today, we may need to reconsider.”
Though expressing disappointment in the appearance of the project, which US Wind Director of Project Development would have the turbines able to be covered with your thumb from the beach, others were not so mild-mannered.
Don Murphy, a regular summer visitor to Ocean City who plans on retiring at the beach town, said the renderings were horrifying.
“I have no words looking at these pictures,” Murphy said. “I am outraged and I am horrified. We need to understand the impact this project will have on Maryland’s greatest economic asset; Ocean City.”
For others, the views of the wind farms were something that inspired hope, and the potential for a cleaner, sustainable future.
“I’ll tell you one thing, as soon as those wind farms are built, I’m taking a vacation to Ocean City, and specifically requesting a room where i have a nice, clear view of the turbines,” said Salisbury resident Elizabeth Dale.
The visual aspect of the project, however, was not the only issue contested by the public. Rather, a hike in electricity rates was a hot topic of debate. Rich noted that the expected rate increase for residents will clock in at approximately 99 cents per month and a .98 percent annual hike for non-residencies.
Ocean Pines resident Chuck Lacy agreed on preserving the view of Ocean City, and scrutinized the economic benefits of the project.
“I can only see this project being more expensive,” Lacy said. “Let alone the rate increases, there’s saltwater corrosion and constant maintenance. This does not look good for the ratepayer.”
While some in attendance argued for and against various issues, one point of discussion had a near-unanimous agreement; it will bring jobs.
David Roncinski, representing the wharf and dock builders union Pile Drivers Local 2311, said that the projects won’t just bring low-income jobs, but actual careers to the Eastern Shore.
“My biggest hope is to work with a neighborhood which has historically not had access to good jobs,” Roncinski said.
Dale, meanwhile, looked to her children, and the future they’ll have on the Eastern Shore should new industry not open up.
“Right now, they have two options; healthcare or chicken,” Dale said. “And I want them to have more choices for good work, and not have to leave the Shore just to find a job.”
As the hearing drew to a close, Deepwater Vice President of Development Clint Plummer said the hearing has shown just how interested people are in the future of these projects.
“When we see a turn out like this, it means that people are listening, that they care and that they’re ready to talk about wind,” Plummer.
The next public hearing on the Skipjack and US Wind projects will take place in Annapolis on Thursday, March 30.
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