UPDATED: Wind Farm Prospect Offers To Move Turbines Back Five Miles, Reducing Visibility By 35%

OCEAN CITY — Despite an offer to move the proposed wind farm five miles further off the coast, Ocean City officials this week sent a formal letter of opposition expressing concern about the proximity of the turbines to the resort’s coast and the potential visual impact from the shoreline.

Just one week after Ocean City officials voiced serious concerns about the potential visual impact of an offshore wind farm off the coast, the company that has proposed one of the two projects currently on the table has already agreed in principle to move the first line of turbines back five miles from the resort’s coastline.

Last week, the Mayor and Council voted to send a letter in opposition to US Wind Inc.’s proposal to develop its offshore wind farm with the first line of what could be 187 turbines each measuring over 480 feet tall just 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City. While resort officials did not oppose the project in general, they voiced grave concerns about the relatively close proximity of the first line of turbines and its visual effect on the pristine sightlines along the shoreline and its potential impact on tourism and property values.

With a quick response, US Wind Project Development Director Paul Rich on Monday fired off a letter in response to the Mayor and Council, offering to move the front line of turbines off the resort’s coast back five miles to reduce or perhaps eliminate the potential views of the offshore wind farm from the beach in Ocean City.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with public officials and partners to ensure that we bring the best possible project to Maryland,” said Rich. “We hear the Ocean City Council loud and clear and want to demonstrate a willingness to improve the project by working with the city council and the mayor.”

However, on the same day US Wind extended the olive branch of sorts by proposing to move the front line of the turbines further offshore, the Mayor and Council sent its letter to the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) voicing its concerns with the turbines within sight of the coast. Mayor Rick Meehan agreed US Wind’s letter was an attempt to allay resort officials’ concerns about the proximity of the turbines to the resort shoreline, but said it was too early to determine if that would make a significant difference, which is why the town’s letter was sent to the Public Service Commission.

“I agree Mr. Rich’s letter is an attempt to open up dialogue and address our concerns,” he said. “However, until we can get verification that an additional five miles would make a difference on the visual impact, it would be premature to commit to that.”

In his letter to the Mayor and Council on Monday, Rich said US Wind was receptive to the town’s concerns about the potential impact on tourism and property values and almost immediately began reworking the plans after last Monday’s courteous but often contentious presentation. During last week’s meeting, Meehan said renderings presented during a public hearing late last month revealed views of the potential wind farm not anticipated by Ocean City in previous incarnations. As a result, the council agreed to send a letter to the appropriate state and federal officials. In his letter back to the Mayor and Council this week, Rich said he took those concerns back and almost immediately began reworking the plans.

“US Wind understands the council’s opinions regarding viewshed impacts of the offshore wind project and has taken these publicly expressed concerns seriously,” the letter reads. “To further address your concerns, US Wind remains willing to discuss altering the current wind project layout in an attempt to reduce viewshed impacts for Ocean City. We have already conducted preliminary engineering redesigns since the April 3 meeting to push eastward the beginning of the wind farm by as much as five miles. We estimate the new location would reduce the visibility of any structures by more than 35 percent.”

In his letter, Rich said he was willing to come back for a second meeting to determine if the resort’s elected officials found the changes palatable.

“We are willing to explore this possibility with you, given the material and measurable reductions in visual impact,” the letter reads. “We recognize the concerns expressed by the council and understand the tourism-based economy Ocean City has cultivated over the years to become a leading Atlantic Coast resort. We hope to continue to prove to you our commitment to be a good corporate partner in the Ocean City community and continue our dialogue around this important project.”

Last week, Rich explained it will cost $1 million per mile to bring the main transmission line ashore, which is why the 12-mile range for the first row of turbines was chosen. Under that scenario, the latest renderings clearly show the turbines would be visible from the shore on most days, and nights for that matter.

Assuming US Wind moved the turbines back five miles, it could add $5 million to the project cost using the same formula. However, there are likely limitations on just how far the wind farm could be pushed back. The proposed 80,000 Wind Energy Area (WEA) has a western boundary of 10 miles and an eastern boundary of 30 miles.

The U.S. Wind project is one of two currently under consideration by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), which will decide by mid-May which company will ultimately develop the offshore wind farm. The other candidate, Deepwater Wind, has proposed a project of a much smaller scale and that company will make a presentation to the Mayor and Council in a couple of weeks.

Last Monday, however, the focus was on the proposed U.S. Wind project and after seeing some visual renderings of what the project could

look like from the beach in Ocean City, the town’s elected officials had seen enough and voted to send a letter of opposition, not directly to the U.S. Wind proposal specifically, but the prospect of having 480-foot tall wind turbines churning offshore in clear view from the beach in general.

In 2013, after years of debate, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act, paving the way for a future offshore wind farm in an 80,000-acre Wind Energy Area (WEA) as close in a range of 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The WEA off Ocean City’s coast is divided into two distinct lease areas including a southern lease area directly off the coast of Ocean City, and a northern lease area to the northeast of Ocean City more situated off Delaware’s coast.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.