Part of the Ocean City Town Council remained unmoved as the conversation on offshore wind continued Monday.
The chamber was packed with people prepared to comment about wind-generated electricity in the beach resort.
“I love my town, my state and my world,” said Patty Larkin of Ocean City. “I haven’t been convinced (a wind farm) is a bad idea.”
Ultimately, 12 of the 14 members of the audience who spoke during public comments about a proposal from Deepwater were in favor of wind farming and critical of the council’s perceived stance against it.
“Windmills are very important, but we need to make it work for everybody,” Council President Lloyd Martin said. “We want it to be better than this. We’re not the bad guy here.”
Absent from the meeting were Mayor Rick Meehan and council members Dennis Dare and Wayne Hartman.
The council, which previously issued a letter to the Maryland Public Service Commission regarding a proposal by US Wind, invited Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski to speak about his company’s Skipjack Wind Farm proposal.
Grybowski’s presentation avoided some of the pitfalls that earned the council’s opposition to US Wind’s plan. Specifically, Skipjack will use only 15 8-megawatt turbines, grouped in an array 19.5 to 26.1 miles out to sea, in a plot angled away from the shoreline off 145th Street.
US Wind’s proposal called for 150 6-megawatt turbines 12 to 14 miles offshore in an array parallel to the shoreline. However, the Baltimore company recently said it would be open to pushing the wind farms 5 miles farther offshore.
Large photographic renderings were left on display for public consumption that showed the Skipjack turbines appearing as little more than unidentifiable white specks on the horizon.
Regardless, council members Mary Knight and Tony DeLuca were still concerned about the visibility of the turbines, which were averaged as 669 feet tall from foundation to the tip of an extended turbine rotor.
Grybowski said the physics they cited was sound, but that there is a difference between what can physically be seen due to the curvature of the earth and what the human eye can actually perceive at these distances.
Knight and DeLuca weren’t moved.
Using Deepwater Wind’s project off Rhode Island as an example, Grybowski described how the Block Island project achieved results without the visibility problems that are worrying the council.
“We don’t want people to sit on the beach and see turbines,” he said. “You’d have to want to see it to be able to see it.”
Knight also expressed a concern about the red Federal Aviation Administration lighting on the turbine nacelles being visible at night. Grybowski said they would be indistinguishable from similar lighting on boats on the horizon or on passing aircraft. He presented additional simulated photo displays to illustrate this.
Grybowski explained that Deepwater would be committed to the project as a substantial taxpayer for decades after the wind farm began operation. He also tried to reassure the council that the Maryland Public Services Commission’s final wind farm approval in May was only the first step, and there would be lengthy discussions with all stakeholders and examination of potential onshore and offshore impacts to assure that the project met approval on all sides before construction could begin. Permit approval would not be expected before June of 2020.
“We don’t want people to complain”
Citing numerous emails from concerned citizens, council member John Gehrig Jr. said council opposition to jumping onto the wind farm bandwagon had to do with possible effect on property values and the council’s “fiduciary responsibility” to citizens.
Claiming that the “math” regarding turbine visibility is based on an observer on the ground, Gehrig said that if condo owners can see the turbines from 11 floors above ground level, they “know they have other options,” which could negatively impact the town’s “largest property tax base.”
“That’s why we proposed what we did,” Grybowski said. “We don’t want people to complain.”
Martin backed up Gehrig, explaining that the council “is trying to be green,” but in a tourist town, the effect on taxes is everything.
“We’re committed to doing it right the first time,” Martin said.
Grybowski said he would take the council’s concerns into consideration.
After concluding other business, members of the audience lined up to speak about the proposal.
William Beckman, member of Iron Workers Local 5 in Baltimore, spoke in favor of the US Wind proposal, claiming that it would bring more jobs to Maryland, especially to the dying shipyards and foundries in Baltimore. He said that the Deepwater project is too small to provide the same benefit to the iron and steel industries.
Tom Murray, a retired EPA consultant, cited “the Edison Effect.” He said people complained about visibility when the first telephone and electrical poles went up, but people don’t even notice them anymore, despite being in plain sight all the time.
“Sea level rise will have a larger effect on property values than what you can see,” he warned the council.
“The urgency is now”
Larry Ryan, leader of the Green Team at St. Peter’s Lutheran church and a teacher of green energy concepts at Stephen Decatur High School, said students are enthusiastic about solar and wind energy, and the job opportunities they will bring to the area.
“The urgency is now,” he said. “These kids are looking for an opportunity. I think this project provides that.”
Maya Knepp, a junior at Stephen Decatur said property taxes are important, but embracing green energy now is vital to the planet’s future.
“Young people are really concerned about this,” she said. “There aren’t going to be any debates about this 50 years in the future when our Earth is dead.”
Gregg Knepp, pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, talked about tree planting, conservation and stewardship of the earth. He described the council’s reluctance to accept a wind farm proposal as a “not in my backyard” stance, and claimed it had caused a loss of credibility. He asked them to rescind their letter of opposition to the US Wind proposal.
“We’re not against turbines, we want this to happen,” Martin said.
Council member Matt James said he thought the meeting had generated a lot of good discussion.
“We need to be convinced it’s a good idea before spending $700 million on the project,” James said.
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