For a community built on the hospitality industry and the lure of clean sand, clean water and clean air, Ocean City has shown a distinct lack of friendliness to offshore wind development and the green energy it would provide to thousands of Marylanders. Mayor Rick Meehan and other town officials recently amped up the hostility with a four-paragraph Valentine’s Day non-love letter calling for a halt to offshore wind, including Baltimore-based US Wind’s plans for two projects nearest their community: MarWin’s 21 turbines, expected to start generating electricity in 2025, and Momentum’s additional 55 turbines, planned for 2026. Their latest complaint? That wind development is already harming sea life, including whales.
It appears the statement was intended to capitalize on the public alarm generated by the discovery of a dead humpback whale earlier this month near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and one found in January at nearby Assateague Island National Seashore. Indeed, East Coast whale deaths have been on the rise generally since 2016, according to federal authorities. But what Ocean City officials are truly trafficking in is a species known as the “canard” — the false or misleading story. Whale deaths have been linked to boat strikes, to fishing gear entanglements, to bacterial infections and to behavioral changes attributed to warming ocean waters brought by climate change and corresponding shifts in fish migration patterns. But wind development? That’s a stretch.
Here’s the real reason Ocean City’s elected officials are freaked out over wind farms. They think they will be an eyesore. It’s really that simple. It’s been their complaint for years. They fear that the millions of tourists and seasonal residents who flock there will one day gaze out on the horizon and see what looks like tiny windmills and say to themselves, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.” The assumption here being that the customary offshore traffic ranging from cargo ships and fishing boats to billboards towed along the shoreline to planes pulling banners with such messages as “Phillips All You Can Eat Seafood Buffet” are perfectly fine. It’s that wind turbine that’s just so gauche.
We’ll admit that visitors have never seen anything like what is planned. From their base to the tiptop of their blades, the proposed turbines will be a towering 850 feet tall. That’s enormous. Around Block Island’s offshore wind farm in Rhode Island, there are regular tour boats so visitors can gawk at these structures up close. But the nearest of any of the US Wind goliaths will be 15 miles from land. Stick your arm out and gaze at your fingernail. This is the equivalent of what can be seen from the beach — assuming the weather is clear enough to see that far.
There are at least two problems with Ocean City’s recalcitrance and shortsightedness. First, it would deny a tremendous source of clean energy to themselves and their fellow Marylanders. The US Wind projects alone are expected to produce enough electricity to power 340,000 homes, which is more than exist in the entire city of Baltimore. And then there are the good-paying jobs that come with that anticipated $5 billion investment. Those turbines are slated to be built at Sparrows Point, which is expected to support similar projects along the East Coast. There are 3,000 construction jobs connected to the Maryland farms with at least 500 permanent jobs for those longer-term efforts. And that’s not counting all the job creation and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment associated with the 966-megawatt Skipjack Wind projects being developed by Ørsted on the Maryland-Delaware coast. And more may soon be authorized through legislation: The Promoting Offshore Wind Energy Resources Act is now before the Maryland General Assembly.
But second, the town’s call for a moratorium on wind power, particularly the misinformation about whales, smacks of the kind of low-rent politics practiced by the local congressman, far-right U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, who, incidentally, has lined up against wind farms and tut-tutted about the whales. Why should Maryland residents want to vacation in a place that cares so little about the environment, about climate change (despite how rising seas may be Ocean City’s biggest threat) and about jobs? Meehan’s claim that they just want the development to be done “responsibly” is simply code for done “so far away we will never be able to see it.”
Better for government regulators to ignore such jetsam and press forward with what may prove Maryland’s single best hope for meeting the state’s ambitious carbon reduction goals. US Wind hopes to have its permits finalized by the spring of next year. For everyone’s sake, including Ocean City’s, let’s hope that happens.
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