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Ocean City leaders used a public hearing Tuesday night on proposals to expand offshore wind-generated electricity production along Maryland’s coast for a last-ditch attempt to push the proposed turbine installations farther out to sea.
But they found themselves badly outnumbered during a three-hour virtual hearing of the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) on two companies’ bids for the next phase of offshore wind energy development in the state: About three-quarters of the people testifying favored expanding the lease area in federal waters.
Two energy companies, Ørsted and US Wind, are awaiting final U.S. government approval to build the first phase of Maryland’s offshore wind development off the coast of Ocean City. But even before the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management weighs in, state officials are seeking bidders for the second phase of wind development; both US Wind and Ørsted are interested in winning that contract as well.
But even as wind energy installations seem likely to appear up and down the Atlantic coast over the next decade, some Ocean City political and business leaders continue to insist that giant turbines located 12-20 miles offshore will damage views from the shore, jeopardizing tourism, real estate values and the local economy.
State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore) urged the PSC to “preserve and protect the Ocean City way of life.”
“We support clean energy in Maryland, including offshore wind, but we stand in opposition to the size and location of the turbines,” she said.
The simple solution, Carozza and other officials argued, is to push the wind energy projects farther offshore, noting that similar moves are being made in other East Coast states. But designated federal lease areas off the coast of Maryland and Delaware only go so far, meaning moving them farther offshore isn’t practical.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he did not know why, with the federal approval process for the first phase of the development moving so slowly, the PSC seemed so eager to award a lease for the second phase.
“Why would the PSC rush to [approve another lease] with so many unanswered questions?” he asked, adding that the impacts of the wind turbines on the Ocean City economy would be “irreversible.”
“We can’t rely on [the wind energy companies] to protect the future of Ocean City,” Meehan said.
Danny Robinson, an Ocean City restaurant owner, laid out his opposition in more dramatic terms. He said he informally polls his customers and hasn’t found a single one who favors the wind projects.
“I understand that we in this little community are the only thing standing between the big wind cartel and billions of dollars in government subsidies,” Robinson said, calling the projects “a plunder of our resources” rather than “a solution for climate change.”
“I don’t want to have to explain to my grandchildren what a sunrise used to look like in Ocean City, Maryland,” he said.
But dozens of people testified in favor of the expansion plans, saying that Ocean City might cease to exist altogether if renewable power projects aren’t advanced aggressively.
“The fact of the matter is, if we don’t act now, there will be no Ocean City,” said Cindy Dillon, a resident of Ocean Pines.
Kathy Phillips, director of the Assateague Coastal Trust, said the current debate over offshore wind reminds her of the furor in Ocean City over beach replenishment in the 1980’s, when some residents feared that higher dunes would block views from low-level condominiums. Instead, she said, they have become natural treasures that attract red foxes and other wildlife.
“Twenty years from now, our offshore wind farms will be claimed proudly by new residents and tourists,” Phillips predicted.
Representatives from labor unions, regional business organizations, Baltimore County government and the Tradepoint Atlantic industrial development near Dundalk touted the economic development benefits of offshore wind and said the projects would provide thousands of construction jobs in Maryland and hundreds of maintenance jobs in the Ocean City area. In August, US Wind announced ambitious plans to establish a manufacturing operation and steel plant at Tradepoint Atlantic, the site of a former Bethlehem Steel factory.
The Public Service Commission will hold a second virtual hearing on the two wind companies’ bids to expand offshore wind on Thursday at 6 p.m. The commission will take written testimony on the proposals until Nov. 19. The agency has promised to make a decision on the bids by Dec. 18.