OCEAN PINES – Wind farms off the Ocean City coast would benefit the economy and are not expected to have an impact on tourism, according to a report released last week.
On Friday, Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group released a report on the observed impact of wind farms. Basu’s research reveals “little evidence” of negative impact on property values associated with wind turbines and “little to no impact” on tourism.
“People expect the worst and the worst has not happened,” he said.
According to Basu, who shared his findings at a press conference hosted by Lower Shore Wind Consortium, his group looked at the possibility of 77 turbines being built between 12 and 21 miles off the Ocean City coast. They investigated how that would impact property values and visitation.
Basu said that because the United States had little in the way of offshore wind, his group looked at wind farms in Europe as well as on-shore American wind farms. The consortium is a “partnership of public and private organizations working together to develop and support offshore wind economic opportunities in Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties,” according to a press release in advance of the report’s public release.
According to Basu, there were some studies that found negative property value impacts related to onshore wind projects.
“However in almost all of those instances the property values changed before construction,” he said. “There is an expectation of negative impact.”
Basu said that while those expectations of negative influence were somewhat self-fulfilling, once people came to realize what it was like living near wind turbines there was no “statistically significant impact on property values.”
As far as the “scenic vista stigma” associated with wind energy, Basu said the Ocean City views were already full of banner planes and boats.
“It’s not always an unfettered view of the horizon,” he said.
He said that in Atlantic City, turbines were being visited by thousands of people each year in spite of the fact that they were adjacent to a wastewater treatment facility. He said on Block Island, an entrepreneur was creating a helicopter tour company to give visitors closer looks at nearby wind turbines.
“We need this,” Basu said. “We need this from the perspective of economic diversification.”
Worcester County, he said, relied on tourism and agriculture.
“Those are very seasonal industries,” he said, adding that wind energy could help strengthen the area’s year-round economy by bringing more high paying, full-time jobs to the area.
In spite of Basu’s conclusions, Ken Wolf, president of Assateague Coastal Trust, expressed concern regarding the construction of turbines off Ocean City. He referenced a North Carolina survey in which the majority of respondents said they would not rent a vacation home if turbines were in view. A response like that in Ocean City, he said, would be devastating.
“I’m not against wind,” he said. “I am against something that would do damage.”
He added that wind turbines in Europe couldn’t be compared to turbines in the United States and that the data compiled by Basu was superficial.
Basu, however, said he considered surveys like the one Wolf referenced superficial.
“What we really care about is observed experience,” he said.
Basu said that while a lot of people might expect negative consequences from the addition of turbines to the area that could simply be an aversion to change.
“People differ with respect to their perception of these things,” Basu said. “One of the things the research finds is that young people are much more likely to be attracted to the presence of wind turbines than people who aren’t so young. That’s what Ocean City has to do constantly– reinvent itself… I’m very skeptical that millennials will look at wind turbines that are 17 or 20 miles offshore and say ‘I don’t want to be in Ocean City anymore.’ I think that’s nonsense. I think this creates another reason to visit Ocean City.”
“What you’re proposing here is an experiment with everybody in this county…,” he said. “This is a jewel here. This is our life in this county. To have it as the first experiment, let’s prove this out somewhere on a smaller scale.”
Basu stressed that in Europe, Denmark in particular, citizens were not “unnerved” when wind turbines were more than five miles from shore.
“It has not destroyed or devastated their quality of life,” he said. “Quite the opposite. It’s made their environment cleaner.”
Terry McGean, engineer for the Town of Ocean City, pointed out that while Basu’s report was based on 77 turbines off the coast, the resort could see significantly more than that. Basu replied that the number of turbines would not change his research, as he’d looked at communities near various arrays of turbines.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he didn’t believe Basu’s research looked at situations comparable to the one proposed for Ocean City.
“We support the economic opportunities that wind energy could bring to the state of Maryland,” he said. “We’re just concerned about the impact on Ocean City … What we’re talking about is 10 miles of property, coastline right on the Atlantic Ocean. We’re talking about 26,000 property owners. We’re talking about oceanfront property owners, hotel property owners, high-rise property owners that are going to be looking directly at them.”
Meehan maintained that Ocean City’s ocean views were its main draw.
“The true value there is the tranquil view of the horizon and the ocean,” he said. “That’s what people come for.”
Meehan also pointed out that Virginia Beach was exploring wind turbines but that there, they were proposed for 27 miles offshore.
“If we were 27 miles offshore, I wouldn’t be here today to speak to this in this manner I’d be here speaking in favor of the economic benefit,” Meehan said, adding that he hoped to see all the parties involved regarding the Ocean City project work together. “I think it should be a situation where we all want to work together. We only get one chance to do this and one chance to do it right.”