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Amendment urges more wind farm oversight

OCEAN CITY – U.S. Congressman Andy Harris (R-1-Md.) was successful in getting language added to a federal appropriations bill that would provide more oversight to the proposed offshore wind energy projects off the coast of the resort.

Last Wednesday, Harris was able to attach language in the fiscal year 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill urging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to closely scrutinize the siting of offshore wind turbines in a pair of projects approved off the coast of Ocean City. The House Appropriations Committee passed the spending plan with Harris’ amendment regarding offshore wind energy projects attached.

Since the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) over a year ago approved two offshore win energy projects off the coast of Ocean City, town officials have been in a prolonged battle to have the two approved companies site their first line of wind turbines at least 26 nautical miles off the coast, or a distance perceived to have the turbines not visible from the shoreline. The efforts have included at least two resolutions passed by the Mayor and Council, a spirited letter-writing campaign between the town’s elected officials and the wind farm developers and even a failed attempt to mandate the 26-mile distance for the wind turbines by the Maryland General Assembly.

The PSC approvals over a year ago essentially granted the lease areas to the two companies, including US Wind and Deepwater Wind, setting in motion a regulatory approval process before any turbines are ever actually constructed off the resort coast. While the town of Ocean City continues to push for moving the turbines back to at least 26 miles, the language Harris was able to attack to the appropriations bill this week might encourage BOEM to further consider the siting issues. After the committee passed the appropriations bill with the amended language attached, Harris went on the offensive with a prepared statement.

“When granting initial approval ofoffshore wind turbines along Maryland’s coast, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management irresponsibly and consistently ignored the concerns of the National Park Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and, most importantly, the people of Ocean City,” he said. “The language I authored in the Department of the Interior appropriations bill urges BOEM to work with other federal agencies, the state of Maryland and the people of Ocean City to come to a consensus on the wind turbines’ height and distance from the shore prior to their approval of any construction and operations plan.”

In the statement, Harris outlined some of the perceived threats to the Ocean City economy, property values and perhaps most importantly, the views and vistas from the resort’s shoreline for the millions of visitors each year.

“These wind turbines, standing at 643 feet with red lights atop each tower in the latest proposal would be visible from the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore,” he said. “The wind turbines, as currently proposed, will reduce property values, jeopardize the safety of maritime travel and pose a threat to Ocean City’s commercial fishing and tourism industries.”

Harris urged BOEM to include all of the stakeholders including Ocean City as it moves forward through the regulatory hurdles.

“BOEM is obligated to work with the state of Maryland, the National Park Service and the Coast Guard on this project and these issues must be resolved before any wind turbines are built off Maryland’s coast,” he said. “If these proposed 86 wind turbines will negatively impact the local communities, maritime safety, marine life or the economy of the region, the proposal must be changed to protect all affected stakeholders.”

US has addressed in recent months some of the issues the congressman brought up in a recent statement.

“US Wind has made clear from the start its commitment to working with all key stakeholder groups to ensure that its project to generate approximately 250 megawatts of wind energy 17 miles off the coast of Ocean City takes into account all concerns, environmental and otherwise,” the statement reads. “The federal lease area, which allows for our project, is the result of years of intensive planning, public hearings and approvals eventually granted from state of Maryland and federal regulatory entities.”

The US Wind statement asserts the company has met all of the environmental concerns and sight pollution concerns and then some. The company asserts it is going above and beyond what is required.

“Environmental assessments of all kinds, including studies on offshore wind’s impacts on marine life, are done at the very early stages of wind energy area identification, and more comprehensive environmental impact analyses are done before any developer can begin putting steel into the water,” the statement reads. “Moreover, US Wind has had very productive discussions with environmental organizations during which we have outlined all that we’re implementing to go above and beyond our obligatory adherence to environmental and marine life protections.”