Dozens of Ocean City residents, environmental groups and businesspeople were again split by the latest proposals for wind turbines off Maryland’s coast, during a lengthy hearing before the Maryland Public Service Commission on Tuesday night.
The newest proposals come from the two companies that were approved in 2017 to begin constructing wind farms in the water along Ocean City — US Wind and Orsted. Both companies have applied to expand their farms in response to a call from the state for new applications. Tuesday’s was the first of two public hearings on the new proposals from the companies.
Elected officials from the beach town reiterated long-held concerns about turbines ruining beachfront views, while environmentalists cheered the possibility of more investment in wind energy.
“Not one turbine has been constructed,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “Why would the PSC rush ... with so many unanswered questions?”
In his remarks, Meehan cited the most recent decision from the commission regarding offshore wind — a 2020 approval of larger turbines for the Skipjack project from Orsted. In that decision, the commission called on Orsted to engage more closely with locals, and applauded the fact that the turbines would be moved back from 19.5 miles offshore to 21.5 or more.
“Allow[ing] turbines to be built just 13 or 17 miles off our beach would be the mistake of a lifetime,” Meehan said.
US Wind, which is building 22 turbines about 17 miles from shore, could grow its footprint four times, with as many as 82 turbines 12 to 22 miles from shore, depending on how they’re configured.
The Orsted proposal would add turbines no less than 20 miles offshore, according to the group’s proposal.
Orsted, alongside the Town of Ocean City, has already moved to disqualify US Wind’s more ambitious expansion proposals, since the company stated those would not be operational until 2027. Orsted and Ocean City argue that Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act necessitates approved projects get online “not later than 2026.”
Both companies have pledged investments at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Baltimore County, now known as Tradepoint Atlantic, for turbine manufacturing, to the delight of local officials and skilled workers.
The commission is to issue a decision by Dec. 18. Another virtual public hearing is to take place Thursday at 6 p.m.
During Tuesday’s hearing, several Ocean City residents, including beachfront property and business owners, spoke up in favor of the turbine expansions.
One resident, Cherie McNett, said the increased number of turbines will hardly be a distraction for beachgoers, given that loud planes waving large advertisement banners and passing boats with flashing screens are already mainstays along Ocean City beaches.
McNett said that young people, including her daughter, are already concerned about visiting the beach over environmental issues. The town stopped offering recycling pickup or drop-off several years ago.
“Being able to support areas that are showing a commitment to reducing our carbon footprint are very important to these young people,” she said.
But another Ocean City resident, Danny Robinson, said approving the project would amount to allowing wind energy companies to loot the coast.
“They’re tripping over each other to plunder our beautiful ocean and run off with their pockets full of taxpayer subsidies,” he said.
Others, like Ocean Pines resident Cindy Dillon, said concerns about ocean views are overblown, and that the turbines could attract even more visitors eager to see the towering machines up close.
Potential impacts on migrating birds and marine creatures, like whales and horseshoe crabs, pale in comparison to the impacts of climate change, some environmental groups said. And a switch to renewable energy could help slow warming, decelerating sea-level rise and saving the beach town from floodwaters.
But Jocelyn Bunting, a Worcester County resident who said her family owns the Ocean Princess fishing boat, said Tuesday that she’s concerned that the project could affect the Carl N. Shuster Jr. Horseshoe Crab Sanctuary and what few North Atlantic right whales remain in the wild.
Scientists at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science have placed a buoy in the US Wind lease area to detect whale passages and inform construction efforts.
Carmen Voso, an assistant business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 24, said he supports the proposals. As a frequent visitor to the town, he said he often drives across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and he’s able to point out lights that his uncle worked on. One day, he said he’d like to point out his work on the turbines in Maryland’s section of the Atlantic.
“When I get into Ocean City, I would love to show my grandkids and my children that your daddy and his friends worked on those windmills out there, rather than just a plane flying by saying ‘Foam Party at H2O tonight,’” Voso said.