Resort officials oppose offshore wind farm; Council worries windmills seen from shore will drive down city’s vacation value
Two weeks after Mayor Rick Meehan got his first glance of “dramatic” renderings of the potential offshore wind turbines, the City Council agreed to declare its opposition to how close the project would be to the shore.
Meehan invited U.S. Wind Project Development Director Paul Rich to present his company’s proposal to the council after attending a Public Service Commission hearing on March 25. During the meeting, he testified that he had concerns the wind farms would detract from Ocean City’s value.
“I understand the importance of alternate energy…[but] I admit the renderings were a little more dramatic than what I had anticipated,” he said during Monday’s session. “I thought it was important that everybody be aware of what’s proposed.”
In 2013, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act, which would create an 80,000-acre wind energy area between 10 to 30 miles off Ocean City’s coast. The wind energy area is divided into two lease areas, one closer to Delaware and the other near Ocean City.
U.S. Wind’s proposal contains 187 wind turbines, roughly 480 feet tall, about 12 miles off Ocean City’s shore. The turbines would generate 750 megawatts and would have two red beacons that would flash at night.
Rich explained to the council that U.S. Wind’s main transmission line would come ashore near the Indian River Inlet in Delaware instead of the resort. But doing so would cost $1 million per mile to bring it ashore, which is why the 12-mile range for the turbines was chosen.
He added that Ocean City could use it as a new tourist attraction, like in Europe.
“Some people see them as a future without propane, natural gas or coal. Some people see them as just ugly,” Rich said. “If you see it as ugly, I can’t change your opinion on that. What I do know is that for every person that doesn’t want to look at a wind turbine, there are one-and-a-half to two people that would gladly make it a destination to see them.”
Although the other candidate, Deepwater Wind, was set to appear before council in two weeks, Councilman Tony DeLuca already made up his mind.
“I spent a lot of time over the weekend researching this…[but] why do people come here? They come for the beach and the ocean and to do anything to jeopardize that is ridiculous. I really believe this is going to affect tourism and it’s going to affect property values,” he said.
He made a motion to send a letter of opposition to the wind farms to Gov. Larry Hogan and to the Public Service Commission. He received backing from Councilman Matt James.
“We have a lot of waterfront properties in Ocean City and a lot of people come to enjoy the view,” James said. “I just think at night with the red flashing lights and during the day, 187 wind turbines will negatively impact that view.”
Councilman John Gehrig was not quite ready to banish wind turbines from Ocean City entirely, pointing out there was time to get more information. Councilman Dennis Dare said Ocean City contributes $92 million to the federal government and $164 to Maryland.
“If even a small percentage of our visitors dislike the look of this, it can be a big loss. We’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot possibly and I don’t think we have to do it,” Dare said. “I think it can be 20 to 24 miles offshore. It’s just a little too much and too close.”
Rich pointed out that the Public Service Commission is in the regulatory process, and Ocean City will have its say in the permitting process. With that in mind, the council clarified that the letter would notify the governor and the commission its concerns on the visible impact.
“We’re not sending a letter that is not if favor of your project or the other project,” James said. “We just don’t want to see it period. I think it’s important we go on the record with that.”
At Councilman Wayne Hartman’s suggestion, DeLuca and James amended the motion to send the letter, once drafted, to state officials.
The motion passed unanimously.
Meehan said the conversation was what he predicted two weeks ago.
“After I saw the picture, I knew this would be the reaction of this council. This is something as proposed that doesn’t meet the test for the town of Ocean City,” he said.
The Public Service Commission will decide between the U.S. Wind and Deepwater Wind proposals no later than May 17.
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