Wind Farm Developer Wants To Meet With OC Officials Over Opposition

OCEAN CITY — A little over a week after Ocean City officials passed a resolution voicing their opposition to offshore wind turbines within view of the beach, US Wind fired back with a strongly-worded letter attempting to clear up perceived misinformation and extending on olive branch of sorts on reconciliation.

On Feb. 5, the Mayor and Council voted to approve a resolution reiterating its opposition to the development of offshore wind energy turbines within view of the resort’s coastline. The resolution went out of its way to point out the Town of Ocean City is not opposed to offshore wind energy development, but merely wanted the turbines sited far enough offshore that they would not be visible from the shoreline.

The number and height of the proposed turbines has been a moving target of sorts. The working formula would have the turbines as close as 12-15 miles off the Ocean City coast. Resort officials have continually pushed for the turbines to be as far as 26 miles from shore, a distance believed to put them safely behind the horizon and out of sight.

This week, US Wind President Riccardo Toto sent a letter to the Mayor and Council expressing the company’s displeasure with the resolution on the one hand, while inviting resort officials to the table on the other hand.

“We are disappointed that the council felt compelled to pass a resolution this past Monday night opposing the construction of any permanent offshore wind turbines off the coast of Maryland,” the letter reads. “As you know, US Wind remains at the table ready and willing to discuss your concerns and work collaboratively with you to resolve those concerns as much as practicable.”

While the letter has a decidedly conciliatory tone, it does take town officials to task somewhat for some of the perceived erroneous information presented during the meeting with the resolution was passed.

“In light of your recent February 5 resolution, however, we are compelled to correct some of the misinformation and misunderstanding said during the council’s discussion,” the letter reads. “In continuing discussions with the Mayor and our continued effort to engage the City Council, we feel it paramount that we move forward based on facts.”

While Mayor Rick Meehan could not be reached for comment on Thursday about the US Wind letter, he did reiterate the town’s position on the siting of the turbines in a letter of his own to the Baltimore Sun this week.

“Ocean City supports clean, unseen energy,” the mayor’s letter reads. “What that means is that we would like the turbines to be constructed at least 26 miles offshore, rather than the 12.9 to 17 miles as one developer is proposing. Our leadership is interested in both promoting green energy and providing job opportunities, but is also our duty as the Mayor and Council to preserve all that we have at stake, including the natural beauty of the beaches and waters in and adjacent to Ocean City that our residents, non-resident property owners and visitors know and love.”

The US Wind letter goes into a bullet list of conditions imposed on the project by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC). The letter explains US Wind is exploring the use of 8.4 megawatt turbines, which would allow the company to utilize fewer turbines with only a marginal increase in height at 370 feet.

The letter also firmly states US Wind no longer has plans for 187 turbines off the coast, largely because the 8.4 -megawatt turbines will allow the project to achieve the desired capacity goals with fewer turbines. It’s important to note the town has used the turbine blade as the actual height at which the structures could be seen from shore.

The letter also states US Wind is seeking the appropriate approvals for the use of motion-detection lighting systems on the offshore turbines. Ocean City officials have continually asserted the nighttime views of the turbines with blinking red lights would be just as onerous as the impact on the daytime views of the structures from the beach.

The letter also addresses the jobs creation benefits of the vast offshore wind project.

“We were ordered by the Maryland PSC to create 3,850 new, direct, in-state jobs,” the letter reads. “We are compelled to do so and the more Ocean City will be willing to collaborate with us, the more we will be able to create new careers in the city.”

Ocean City has acknowledged the jobs benefits of the project, but has contended most of those jobs will be located in inland areas where the turbines and associated equipment and supplies will be manufactured with little or no real meaningful job creation in the resort area. The US Wind letter also states it has been ordered by the PSC to use a port facility in Ocean City to serve as the operations and maintenance port.

“We are currently conducting site assessments and expect millions of dollars’ worth of upgrades to spent on facilities within Ocean City,” the letter reads, although it is uncertain where within Ocean City that could mean at this point.

The US Wind letter asserts there is little or no wiggle room in moving the parameters of the designated Wind Energy Area (WEA).

“Moving the federal Wind Energy Area, an area within federal waters specifically designated for offshore wind development after a four-year stakeholder engagement process of which Ocean City actively participated, further east is not a possibility for all of the reasons various stakeholders expressed during the four-year process.”

In not so many words, the US Wind letter suggests it is somewhat disingenuous for the town of Ocean City to assert it has not been part of the decision-making process.

“Officials from Ocean City have been actively participating in offshore wind development off the coast of Maryland, and specifically the siting of the Maryland Wind Energy Area, since 2010,” the letter reads. “To suggest Ocean City has been ‘left out of this from the very beginning’ is incorrect.”

The letter extends an olive branch of sorts to the town to resolve some of the differences and begin working on possible solutions anew.

“Because of the ever-evolving technology of the offshore wind industry and the complexity of our project, misunderstandings can occur,” the letter reads. “It is therefore incumbent on us as good corporate citizens of the town of Ocean City that we continue to push for direct dialogue. We believe the council would greatly benefit from a direct dialogue with us so that we many answer questions directly, provide up-to-date information and together find ways to address all concerns.”

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.