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Dear Ocean City: Giant wind turbines are awesome | COMMENTARY

In this Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, three wind turbines stand in the water off Block Island, R.I. The Danish offshore wind company Orsted operates these turbines. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
In this Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, three wind turbines stand in the water off Block Island, R.I. The Danish offshore wind company Orsted operates these turbines. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File) (Michael Dwyer/AP)

The winds of change are coming to Maryland’s Atlantic beach resort, and it would be nice to think Ocean City’s leadership won’t blow their opportunity. Last week, the Maryland Public Service Commission ruled that a Danish company can build offshore wind turbines much taller than originally proposed. The project by Ørsted’s Skipjack Offshore Energy, one of two offshore wind farms planned for the Maryland-Delaware coast, will now feature turbines more than 800 feet tall, which will be 212 feet taller than the company had initially planned. How big is 800 feet? Pretty big. Take one Baltimore World Trade Center and stack another of the exact same size on top of it and you have roughly the equivalent.

The proposal has met with occasional gusts of bluster in Ocean City, which even developed slogans, “Green & Unseen” and “Save Our Sunrise,” to explain the collective view of elected officials (and more than a few residents) that while wind power was all well and good, they vehemently opposed any turbine that might ever, depending on the weather, be viewed from the beachfront. Their fear is that visitors will be so repelled by the presence of turbines — even those located 20 miles from the beach and that appear, by the town’s own reckoning, as little more than distant, hazy Monopoly game pieces on the horizon.

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The concern is that the sight of these distant behemoths — and “distant” is the right word considering that 20 miles is the equivalent of motoring from the Baltimore World Trade Center to Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville and then taking an extra half-mile hike into the woods — would drive away tourists and depress property values. Now, keep in mind this is the same town that is perfectly fine with airplanes dragging banners promoting discount alcohol or billboards advertising Big Pecker’s Bar and Grill or the Brass Balls Saloon. To complain about visual clutter anywhere near the Ocean City Boardwalk is like focusing on President Donald Trump’s choice of Sharpie pens, instead of ballpoint or fountain. Is that really the worst thing going on within 20 miles of the White House?

The PSC decision is not entirely unmindful of Ocean City’s concerns, incidentally. It directs Skipjack to locate the larger turbines further offshore by about two miles. And because the larger turbines are much more powerful, there will also be fewer of them — 12 instead of 15 — which further reduces their visibility. The PSC even supports an aerial lighting system that would turn warning lights on only when aircraft are detected nearby, something Ocean City officials requested so that blinking red lights would not be an omnipresent offshore feature.

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Yet, here’s the bottom line: The PSC also recognized that the Skipjack wind farm, like the even larger U.S. Wind project, serves the broader public interest. The turbines are bigger because bigger is more efficient. The turbines are located 21.5 miles or more offshore instead of 33 miles as Ocean City wanted because that is more practical, too. These parameters lower costs, and lower costs mean ratepayers pay less in their monthly bills. Affordable clean energy isn’t just in everyone’s interest, it’s particularly in the interest of Ocean City property owners who face a far greater risk of climate change-exacerbated flooding on their doorstep then visual clutter on the horizon.

The United States needs to rely more on renewable energy and less on burning greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. Wind isn’t the cure-all, but it’s clearly part of the answer. And people who live in the especially vulnerable areas like the beachfront ought to be begging for this investment, not fighting against it. It would be one thing if tomorrow, someone proposed building an 800-foot tower next to the Jolly Roger Amusement Park. Unattractive? A bit out of place? Yeah, we get that. But if a time traveler from a century ago landed just about anywhere on Coastal Highway, they’d be appalled by, well, just about everything from the high-rise condos to the go-cart tracks (and don’t get them started on beach attire) that dominate the landscape.

Today, Ocean City is famous for its boardwalk, salt-water taffy, and for being the White Marlin Capital of the World. Soon, it can be famous for being as green as any resort town on the planet. Saving the planet counts for something. We would defy anyone to look at the current plans Ocean City’s offshore wind turbines and not see, at least to some degree, the very thing that every vacationer longs for — greater peace of mind.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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