US Wind, one of two firms with plans for wind farms off Ocean City, announced at a recent celebratory news conference a deal to bring steel production back to the old Bethlehem Steel site at Sparrows Point.
An army of dignitaries and office holders sang the praises of the plan to assemble steel parts for the wind turbines on part of the tract now known as Tradepoint Atlantic.
“We’re gonna see manufacturing jobs back and we’re gonna see union jobs,” crowed State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, who represents the area, “We’re gonna see good pay, we’re gonna see the economic development that we’ve wanted so long,”
Gov. Larry Hogan thanked US Wind and Tradepoint Atlantic for their collaboration “because your success truly is Maryland’s success.”
And while that may have been good news for residents of Eastern Baltimore County, the folks in Ocean City aren’t exactly popping champagne corks.
Mayor Rick Meehan worries about what those giant wind turbines just 13 to 17 miles offshore would do to the views from the beach and how it would affect the tourist industry that is at the heart of his town’s economy.
“I think the view shed of the town of Ocean City is something that’s important,” he told WYPR. “It’s something you and I can enjoy, that pristine view today. But future generations won’t see that same view once these turbines are constructed. And honestly, I think that’s a shame.”
It’s not that he’s opposed to clean energy, or that he begrudges anyone the jobs that would be created, Meehan says. He could even support the project if the turbines were moved another 20 miles offshore, where they wouldn’t be visible from the beach.
“If these turbines were moved a little further to the east, we’d be the first to be able to do that, and glad to do so,” he said.
Maryland’s Public Service Commission approved US Wind’s application for 22 8-megawatt turbines 17 miles offshore in 2016 and the company is now seeking approval for a second, much larger project with much larger turbines.
In August 2020, the PSC approved the plans of Orsted, a second offshore wind developer, to use the larger turbines in a project about 20 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
The commission has agreed to schedule additional hearings for the projects.
Jeff Grybowski, US Wind’s CEO, says that the mayor’s concerns are overblown, that the turbines would be barely visible from the beach.
“I think you need to be looking for them to want to see them,” he said. “There are other vessels out there. There’s a lot of activity out there, you see a lot of things out on the horizon. And these turbines will be like anything else you see out on the horizon, you really have to stand there and look for them.”
Michael James, owner of Ocean City’s Carousel Hotel at 117th Street, says that’s hard to believe given the turbines would be 850 feet tall.
“That is like an 80 story building,” he said, comparing the size of the turbines to his 21-story hotel. “That’s almost like putting four Carousels on top of each other.”
He and Mayor Meehan point to studies done by the University of Delaware and North Carolina State University that found visible offshore wind turbines would hurt tourism.
James says that could mean declining real estate values.
“If you saved your whole career, and decided you’re going to buy a little slice of heaven down at the beach and all of a sudden, you’ve got these wind turbines sitting out in front of you instead of a sunrise,” he said. “I think that could hurt real estate values dramatically.”
Meehan insisted he never wanted to delay the projects, but to make them “more compatible with Ocean City,” and that they would “continue to express our concerns” at the upcoming hearings.
Those hearings are to focus on impacts to ratepayers, according to Tori Leonard, the PSC’s spokeswoman. But, she added, the effect on the view from Ocean City’s beach would be “taken into account.”
And she said these projects also have to clear some federal hurdles.