OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week got a closer look at a second proposed offshore wind energy farm that includes fewer turbines further offshore, but still weren’t keen on the proposal and asked the developer to consider moving even further off the coast.
The Mayor and Council on Monday got an in-depth presentation from Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski on his company’s proposal to develop a wind energy farm off the coast of the resort. Deepwater’s proposal, called the Skipjack project, is considerably smaller in size and scope than another proposal presented by US Wind Inc. two weeks ago. Both projects are 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 proposed Skipjack project calls for just 15 turbines in a designated Wind Energy Area (WEA) more situated off the coast of Delaware than the coast of Ocean City. As a result, the closest turbines in the Skipjack proposal would be roughly 20 miles from the north end of Ocean City and closer to 30 miles from the Inlet and downtown area.
By contrast, the much larger US Wind proposal calls for as many as 187 turbines and its WEA is situated more directly east of Ocean City. Perhaps more importantly, the US Wind proposal calls for the first line of wind turbines to be located just 12 miles off the coast of the resort. When the Mayor and Council got a closer look at the US Wind project and its renderings showing the turbines clearly visible on the horizon off the resort coast, they fired off a letter to the PSC voicing their opposition not to the concept of a wind farm in general, but the potential impact on the pristine views from the shoreline for countless visitors and oceanfront property owners. It’s important to note US Wind has since proposed to move the first line of turbines in their project back five more miles in an effort to placate Ocean City officials concerned about the views.
Having the benefit of going second, Deepwater was keenly aware of the pushback from city officials when they presented their proposal on Monday and went to great lengths to illustrate how its proposal would create significantly less visual impact from the shoreline in Ocean City.
“We’re called Deepwater Wind, not coast water wind,” said Grybowski. “The company tag line is ‘clean energy just over the horizon.’ We took a very deliberate approach on how to structure the proposed project because we very much understand the economy around the coast.”
Grybowski pointed out the differences in the two proposals from a variety of standpoints, including the number of turbines. Deepwater’s proposal calls for 15 turbines compared to the 120 proposed in US Wind’s first phase. It’s also important to note the Deepwater turbines have a larger capacity at eight megawatts compared to six megawatts, meaning they are considerable taller. The eight megawatt towers stand over 600 feet tall at tip of the blade, compared to roughly 480-foot tall US Wind turbines. Grybowski also pointed out Deepwater’s WEA is situated further to the north and east of the US Wind WEA with its turbines nearly 20 miles from 146th street, or the north end of the resort.
“We want to build a project that is not in the face of beachgoers,” he said. “We’re very cognizant of that. We want to put this project as far away as we can within the designated site. You’re going to have to want to see the turbines. Only on the clearest of days will be able to see them at all and even then they would be very small.”
When asked if his company’s comparatively smaller project at 15 turbines compared to potentially 187 for US Wind would be expanded in the future, Grybowski said it was a possibility but any future expansion would move even further from Ocean City.
“We have the ability to build farther to the north,” he said. “We would not build anything closer to Ocean City. If we expand in the future, we would prefer to build north to serve Delaware and New Jersey.”
Throughout the presentation, the discussion kept coming back around to the potential to see the turbines from the shore and there were complicated issues about the curvature of the earth and the position of the turbines in relation to the horizon, for example. While there is no exact formula, Councilman Tony DeLuca said his research led him to believe they would still be visible at the roughly 20 miles proposed by the Deepwater project.
“I’ve talked to three engineers and all three have told me with the curvature of the earth and the horizon, they would have to be at least 26 miles offshore to be not visible at all,” he said.
When asked if Deepwater would consider moving the turbines further offshore, Grybowski said there was a willingness to at least explore the possibility.
“We would certainly consider it,” he said. “I’m just asking you to take a look at what is theoretical to see and what the average person can actually see. You would really need to want to see them, and even then you’d have to look hard to the left if you were on the beach in Ocean City.”
Another important issue is where the eventual transmission line will come ashore to connect to the electric grid in the mid-Atlantic region. The US Wind project calls for a transmission line landing in the Indian River area in Delaware, while Deepwater’s proposal calls for a transmission line in Ocean City at some point. Grybowski pointed out there would be significant benefits to having the line come ashore in Ocean City in terms of electric service reliability and stability in the resort area as well as an economic benefit.
“We have thought the best place to hook up to land is in Ocean City,” he said. “There are existing substations there. Wherever we land, we will become a local taxpayer. There will be tens of millions of dollars in local tax influence.”
Council President Lloyd Martin said Ocean City officials have listened to both proposals with an open mind and reiterated there is not local opposition to the concept of a wind energy farm off the coast of the resort in general, just concerns about the distance of the turbines from the coast and their potential impact on the oceanfront views.
“Ocean City is trying to be as green as we can,” he said. “We’re also doing our strategic planning and we want to do this right the first time. We want to hear it will be 27 miles offshore and nobody will see it and it will create jobs and clean energy and we’re not hearing that from anybody.”
During the US Wind presentation two weeks ago, it was learned the cost of getting the main transmission line from the turbines to the shore was about $1 million per mile, which had some bearing on the decision to locate the turbines closer to the coast. Grybowski confirmed that figure is loosely correct for the Deepwater project as well. Martin said in the vast scheme of things, with a multi-hundred million dollar project, the cost of moving the turbines further back from view of the beach seemed less significant.
“We’re talking about $6 million more on a $700 million project,” he said. “It’s certainly not peanuts, but in the big scheme of things it could make this project more acceptable.”
Grybowski said he understood the Mayor and Council’s concerns, but pointed out the distance of the first turbines from the shore had as much to do with the size of the WEA as the economic aspects of bringing the transmission line ashore.
“We understand the importance of the tourism economy here,” he said. “We will go back and have our engineers rework it a little and take a good, hard look and see how far we can go. It’s not just about the money. We have a defined area we have to work with out there and there is a limit on how far we can move back.”
Councilman John Gehrig said in the wake of US Wind’s presentation two weeks ago, local residents and visitors have been clearly divided on the issue. Gehrig pointed out the council’s directive on the issue was to look out for the resort’s best interest in terms of the impacts on the views from the shoreline and those potential impacts on property values.
“We’ve received tons of calls and emails and 50 percent say support it and 50 percent say oppose it,” he said. “If half the people no longer have an interest in the residential oceanfront property in Ocean City because of this, they can choose to look elsewhere. It’s not that we don’t like turbines. The point is what is the risk? That is why pushing them out a little more is so important to us. That’s why this is so tough for us.”
Grybowski said those concerns are why Deepwater chose to erect the turbines further from the shore.
“That very analysis is why we proposed what we did as opposed to what you saw two weeks ago,” he said. “We don’t want people to say ‘look at all of those turbines.’ We want people to say ‘I heard there are turbines out there, where are they?’”
While there were no public comments following the US Wind presentation two weeks ago, there was a considerable showing on the audience for Deepwater’s presentation on Monday. When given the opportunity to weigh in, the dozen or so who spoke were largely in favor of the wind energy farm off the coast. Stephen Decatur High School junior Maya Knepp pointed out the larger issues of climate change and sea level rise as reason enough to explore renewable energy despite the potential view of tiny turbines on the horizon.
“Young people are really concerned about this,” she said. “Renewable energy is important for our future. There won’t be property taxes to worry about in the future if we don’t do something now.”
Greg Knepp, Maya’s father, asked the Mayor and Council to reconsider their letter in opposition to the US Wind project, again not because they opposed the concept, but because they opposed the potential impacts on the view from the shoreline.
“We’re asking you to rescind your letter of opposition,” he said. “If you can’t support it, at least don’t stand in the way.”
Gerald White said the potential to see tiny wind turbines on the horizon on only the clearest of days was worth the benefits of clean, renewable energy.
“They might be visible, but I see inspiration,” he said. “We’re finally moving forward and getting more progressive on how we can live on this earth. I don’t think it will damage anybody’s property value one whit. I think it will be inspirational to come to the beach and see these turbines far off along the horizon.”
Martin reiterated the Mayor and Council was not opposed to the concept of the wind farms and have gone to great lengths to make the town greener, but also reiterated there were still concerns about the potential impacts on the views.
“We’re not writing letters saying we don’t want this,” he said. “We just want it to be better and make sure it’s right the first time. We’re trying to be green and we support the concept. We’re not the bad guys here.”