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Ocean City offshore wind: what you need to know from public hearing

Residents of Ocean City, the Eastern Shore and Delaware packed an exhibit hall at the Ocean City convention center to make known their opinions on offshore wind.

The hours-long discussion at times strayed from the public hearing’s stated intention. At least 700 individuals came to the hearing, and 14 pages were filled with names of those registered to speak, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The public hearing was called by the commission to get public input on the larger wind turbines Orsted and U.S. Wind plan to use. U.S. Wind and Orsted submitted new plans to the PSC in the fall that included much larger wind turbines than originally proposed. As a result, the commission, which partially regulates the project, called for a public hearing to consider the changes.

Here’s what you need to know about what happened and what could come next:

Eastern Shore officials asks for more hearings

More than a dozen Eastern Shore lawmakers gave public testimony to the PSC, much of which was centered on the commission needs to hold more hearings.

After the two wind developers, Orsted and U.S. Wind, addressed the crowds, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan took to the podium.

In his comments, the mayor called on the PSC to hold more evidentiary hearings to better understand the impact larger wind turbines would have on the town.

Each speaker was given three minutes to address the commission and in that time, Meehan made his stance clear: What the wind developers were planning to construct would “dramatically change the viewshed off of our Maryland and Delaware coast forever.”

Meehan was followed by a number of state senators and representatives, along with U.S. Congressman Andy Harris, R-Md.-1.

Harris pointed out that nothing stops U.S. Wind from possibly building 12-megawatt wind turbines as close as 10 miles from shore.

Harris went on to criticize the wind developers’ decision to use larger wind turbines saying, “I would suggest that this is one of the most amazing cases of bait and switch that I’ve ever seen.”

Some Shore politicians like Salisbury Mayor Jake Day struck a different tone.

Inland community should support their neighbors in Ocean City, Day said. Though, he added, Salisbury is seeing an economic boost from offshore wind development.

Salisbury will be the home of North America’s first offshore wind safety training facility, and the developing industry, Day pointed out, could bring more jobs to the city.

“We can’t turn our backs on either that growthor the specific concerns about fishing or tourism. Ladies and gentlemen, our future are intertwined and we have to find balance now more than ever that we are one community,” Day said.

Wind developers lay out facts

For U.S. Wind and Orsted, the PSC hearing was an opportunity to help explain the offshore wind projects.

In the case of U.S. Wind, Salvo Vitale, country manager for U.S. Wind, said in European countries where offshore wind is more common, the wind farms “don’t bring any detriment to tourism or real estate value.”

As the U.S. Wind project continues, Vitale said it’s important for the company to keep the facts straight. Where that was apparent was the visual renderings of the turbines.

“If you see the renderings that we presented, you’ll see that they are extremely different from what’s been presented to the population of Ocean City by the city council,” Vitale said.

Since offshore wind is a relatively new industry in the U.S., Joy Weber, development manager for Orsted, she said understands some people may be confused about the projects or their impact.

“I think that this is a new American industry, and it was a great opportunity provided by the Public Service Commission for us to hear from the folks that are as close to the project as possible about what their concerns are, the support from the folks that we do have. It’s always good to have public discourse around projects like this,” Weber said.

Going forward, Weber said Orsted will continue to help educate the public on its project.

Orsted yielded much of its time to allow more members of the public to speak.

What’s next?

The next step for the commission was unclear late Saturday.

Members of the public can still send in written comments to the commission until Jan. 31.

After that, the commission will review the information it has gathered and may or may not take further action.