Ocean City officials conflicted on wind farms determination

A detailed report that concluded wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City won’t lower property values, as resort officials fear, “didn’t do anything to convince me,” a resort Town Council member said this week.

“We’re still very, very concerned about it. The report was commissioned by US Wind, so it was kind of them opening their own mail,” Councilman Tony DeLuca told the Salisbury Independent, a few days after the report was released at a public meeting at the Ocean Pines Library.

The offshore turbines issue is a crucial one for the Salisbury community, because manufacturing businesses here hope to provide parts and services to the wind farms.

DeLuca, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and other officials have been adamant about wind turbines being made smaller or placed farther offshore, so they won’t be seen by residents or tourists.

Presented by a representative of Sage Policy Group, the report states communities similar to Ocean City that have wind farms didn’t experience a drop – or increase – in property values.

“I really don’t believe it,” DeLuca said.

“We still have three or four public hearings. One of them will be in Ocean City. We just want to hear what the public has to say,” he said.

The last meeting at Stephen Decatur High School was attended mostly by contractors and didn’t offer a true picture of how Ocean City residents feel, DeLuca said.

Creation of the $2.5 billion wind farm project involves installing 125 turbines stretching from the Inlet to the Delaware border, about one and one-quarter miles apart, in 20 to 30 meters of water over 80,000 acres.

They would be 17 miles offshore.

Ocean City officials want turbines 26 miles offshore.

Energy would be collected at a substation and transmitted to shore through underwater cables.

The project is expected to come online in three years and produce enough power for more than 500,000 Maryland homes, explained  Paul Rich, US Wind project manager.

Despite concerns, plans for the wind farm won’t come to a halt, said Matt Drew, a Salisbury engineer and proponent of wind power, who attended the report presentation last week. Companies involved have approval and contracts with the federal government, he said.

The next step will likely be further explanation, until it’s clear the turbines won’t threaten tourism, property values or what the report called “scenic vista stigma,” Drew said.

But DeLuca said there is time to make changes. Rich countered it isn’t possible to go farther offshore.

“We bid on a lease area and contracted with the federal government. We can’t go any farther east because of Coast Guard constraints, as well. There’s large amount of shipping traffic in the ocean that goes from the southern U.S. as well as the Caribbean that comes up into the Delaware River. They have a navigational channel they have to follow to go into and out of the Delaware River, so that precludes us from moving the turbines,” Rich explained.

In July, Congressman Andy Harris proposed attaching an amendment to the Department of the Interior appropriations bill to move the turbines farther away. The amendment was approved by the U.S. Appropriations Committee, prompting Harris to write on his Website that it would only delay the project, not cancel it.

Harris also wrote he’s concerned about a possible increase in constituents’ electricity rates, but Rich said that won’t happen.

“Saying it is more expensive is only true when you look at the subsidy paid by rate-payers, 97 cents a month. But in addition to that, we help alleviate the congestion fee that is currently on bills. Each rate payer in Maryland now pays $4 a month to import power from other states,” Rich said.

Final action on the amendment isn’t expected until later this year because of the August congressional recess.

DeLuca told the Salisbury Independent he, Meehan and other City Council members like the idea of a wind farm but have “heard from a lot of people who just don’t want to see the turbines from the beach.”

“They want them here but they just don’t want them visible. We went to engineers and they determined with the curvature of the earth, at 26 miles they are invisible. People we have heard from don’t want to see them at all. We have had a lot of e-mails. I think he can reduce the size of the turbines, the height, if they have to be closer in, and we can get same result from them,” DeLuca said.

Rich countered his company can only use equipment that’s on the market, and heights are standard.

“They don’t custom make the equipment. For a turbine to generate a certain amount of power it has to have blades that are a certain length. In this case to generate the power we need, the blades are around 245 feet in length, so right now the turbine is set at 325 feet above the water line. That’s what you see. The blades, you don’t see them from 17 miles away. You are looking at something 325 feet above the water. We can’t move it any farther away than it already is,” Rich said.

Ocean City officials have been involved in conversations about wind power for the past seven years, Rich said.

“The city participated in discussions and insisted it be 10 miles offshore, then 17 miles offshore.  We can’t move it more and still stay within the wind energy area,” he said.

Regardless, the study presented last week firmly states properties won’t lose their value if the turbines can be seen from shore.

Neither will tourism be hurt. In fact, the turbines can become tourist attractions and have “large positive effects on local business activity and employment.”

“In the final analysis, we find no compelling reason with respect to property values or visitation to suggest that Worcester County stakeholders should turn their backs on the opportunity to place Maryland’s Eastern Shore at the vanguard of America’s offshore wind industry.

“This industry has the potential to reduce electricity transmission and congestion costs, improve air quality, and promote more reliable and sustainable electricity generation while diversifying the year-round economy and stimulating job creation,” the study states.

The study praises “the blessings of geography” in Maryland, allowing the opportunity to “be at the vanguard of America’s offshore wind-driven revolution.”


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