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Wind turbine hearing next week

OCEAN CITY – With a public hearing looming next week in Ocean City on the size and scale of the proposed offshore wind turbines, resort officials are encouraging attendance from the public.

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) next Saturday at noon will host a public hearing on the proposed changes in size of the offshore wind turbines for two projects approved off the coast of the resort. The PSC is holding the public hearing in response to changes in the size of the wind turbines due to technological advances since the two projects were approved in 2017. The PSC has cautioned the scope of next week’s public hearing, set for the convention center at noon on Saturday, January 18, will be limited to the turbine height issue and will not be open to a discussion of the validity of the two projects in general.

The public hearing as been long-awaited by the town of Ocean City, which, from the beginning, has not opposed the renewable, clean energy projects in general, but rather the distance of the turbines from the resort coast and the potential impacts on Ocean City’s viewshed and tourism, property values and the local economy. To be fair, both wind farm project developers have made presentations to the Mayor and Council in public meetings at City Hall during the process and there have been public hearings in other areas around the state, but next Saturday’s hearing, couched by the resort as the “Save Our Sunrise” hearing, is the first of its kind right in the resort’s backyard.

The catalyst for next week’s public hearing is the steadily-increasing changes in the height and breadth of the proposed wind turbines off the coast of the resort. With technological advances since the two projects were first improved, at least one of the developers is now committed to utilizing 12-megawatt turbines described as the “world’s largest offshore wind turbine.”

While the other project developer has not committed to a specific wind turbine, the size of its proposed turbines will likely increase substantially as well and possibly include the 12-megawatt turbines. Again to be fair, both companies have said increasing the height will reduce the number of turbines needed to meet the energy production needs. Also to be fair, both companies have made at least some effort to adjust the distances of the turbines from the resort coast.

Nonetheless, the proposed projects remain too close for comfort for resort officials, who are rallying the troops for next week’s public hearing at the convention center. Mayor Rick Meehan this week reiterated the town’s position the siting of the proposed wind farms and the height of the turbines threatens Ocean City’s future.

“With the construction of 139 windmills off Ocean City’s coast, each structure more than twice the height of the tallest building in Ocean City and the blades the length of a football field, there is no question they will be visible from our shoreline, especially when they are lit up at night,” he said. “It is a threat to our environment, our property values, our economy and the future of Ocean City. It is simply irresponsible.”

From the beginning, the project developers have pointed out moving the wind farms farther out in the approved Wind Energy Areas will come with an exorbitant cost. At least one developer has said moving the turbines will cost an estimated $1 million per mile. However, Meehan reiterated there is only one chance to get it right for Ocean City.

“We understand the time and money that is potentially involved in moving the windfarms, but those concerns do not justify placing Ocean City’s future at risk,” he said. “These turbines are permanent installations. We only have one chance to make this right and if that means the projects get delayed or the developers make a little less profit, it will be money and time well spent to protect our town.”