A developer persuaded landowners to bless his plans for more than two dozen wind turbines that would tower more than 40 stories high. But after a years-long battle with Allegheny County officials and concerned neighbors, the clear cut hilltops remain bare.
This week, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who represents Maryland's 1st Congressional District including the entire Eastern Shore, issued a press release to let his constituents know he was proudly standing in the way of offshore wind power. Specifically, the Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist convinced the House Committee on Appropriations to add language to the fiscal 2019 Interior Department funding bill related to two wind farms planned near Ocean City.
His beef? Under certain conditions, the tall wind turbines "with red lights atop each tower" would be "visible from the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore." If that complaint of bad aesthetics sounds familiar, that's because he's made it before — as has the Ocean City Council, which voted to oppose the wind turbines earlier this year. Together, along with the town's mayor, they've been a chorus of naysayers not heard since the fictional Harold Hill warned about a pool hall in "The Music Man." Oh, you're going to get falling property values and a damaged tourism trade right here in Ocean City. Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble.
Here's the bottom line, however: The "rider" the congressman added to the bill is just as big a flim-flam as any Iowa boys band. It merely calls on the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to consult with federal and state authorities about the project before it's built, something the agency should be doing anyway. The developers say they have no problem with that. It's likely Dr. Harris would have pushed for tougher restrictions (he's done it before only to be rebuked by the Senate), but he knew that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Senate committee that oversees energy and natural resources, stood in his way.
No doubt one can find beach goers who fret about the presence of off-shore turbines, even though the developers have pledged to build them no closer than 17 miles from land, roughly the equivalent of the commute from Oriole Park at Camden Yards to Dr. Harris' home in Cockeysville. And these sensitive souls deserve to be heard — as they were before the Maryland Public Service Commission and the Maryland General Assembly, both of which had an opportunity to halt the project in its tracks over the past year, and both of which declined. The reality is there's little evidence that the presence of wind turbines will steer visitors away from Maryland's Atlantic Ocean resort, but there's overwhelming data on the harm caused by burning fossil fuels, particularly as sea levels continue to rise and coastal communities like Ocean City are put at great risk.
In announcing approval for the U.S. Wind and Deepwater Wind projects last year, the Maryland Public Service Commission noted that the state was now positioned to be a leader in renewable energy and that nearly 10,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created. When Ocean City officials pressed their case to lawmakers in Annapolis earlier this year, they did not get far. Legislation requiring the turbines be constructed no closer than 30 miles (a measure developers say would essentially scrap the project) was handily defeated in committee.
The MV Ocean Discovery is preparing to survey the sea bottom off Ocean City to find solid places to set huge wind turbines. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
Why is it assumed that a windmill on the distant horizon, flashing red light or no, would be ruinous? Polls show Americans overwhelmingly support clean, renewable energy. The developers say their surveys of Ocean City vacationers suggest the wind turbines have broad support. Why aren't Ocean City's leaders bragging about how their community will be a national leader in the green movement? Block Island Wind, the nation's first offshore wind farm, had no such ill effect on Rhode Island, and that project's five turbines are just 3.8 miles offshore — less than one-fourth the distance involved in Ocean City.
But what's most troubling of all is that Ocean City and, indeed, much of Representative Harris' district, lie in the path of rising sea levels, a major side effect of climate change. If the congressman wants something truly destructive to worry about, it should be not just the devaluation of beachfront property but the prospect of billions of dollars in property being completely wiped out. Talk about the loss of livelihoods; how about adding the loss of lives to go with it? One offshore wind project obviously won't do much to prevent the coming floods, but at least it's a small step in the right direction — with the added bonus of putting the state at the center of an economic revolution.
Mr. Harris may be comforted in knowing that Cockeysville won't be swept away if, as Maryland Sea Grant notes, waters in the Chesapeake Bay rise 2.1 feet by 2050, but voters in his district should not rest so easy — not when their congressman is anxious to sabotage clean energy in his home state. For someone who claims to be a political conservative, he certainly has an odd way of expressing it by advocating for a greater federal regulatory reach, killing private sector jobs and ignoring the danger his constituents face.