Wind Turbine Debate Renewed; Councilman Wants OC To Explore Options

OCEAN CITY — The distance of the turbines in a proposed wind energy project off the coast of Ocean City continued to be a hot topic this week with resort officials vowing to explore their options.

Last spring, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) approved one of two proposed offshore wind energy projects off the coast of Ocean City to US Wind. The US Wind project involves the placement of 32 wind turbines off the resort coast at a distance of 17 miles, or the farthest east area of its federally-designated Wind Energy Area (WEA). Throughout the process, the town of Ocean City has generally supported the US Wind project, but has strongly opposed the placement of any turbines within 26 miles of the resort coast, or the distance from which town officials believe the massive turbines would not be visible from the Ocean City shoreline.

In recent months, the battle over the distance of the wind turbines from the resort coast has been waged on many fronts. The Mayor and Council approved a resolution expressing their displeasure with the distance at 17 miles. Last month, a bill in the General Assembly that would have moved the turbines 26 miles offshore failed to get out of committee.

In between, both sides have engaged in an aggressive letter-writing campaign. Last week, resort officials were disappointed when a significant contract for the US Wind project went to a Louisiana firm and that US Wind had chosen not to renew its membership with the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

Through it all, US Wind has stated it plans to move forward with the approved project at 17 miles, a concession the company made after the from the approved 12-mile limit of the WEA. This week, the issue boiled to the surface again when Councilman Tony DeLuca asked that the wind turbine controversy be added to next week’s Mayor and Council work session agenda in light of the latest information.

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“Please add wind turbines to next week’s agenda for possible next steps,” he said. “There are still many issues we’re facing. I learned that the new tall weather tower is going to be installed in August of this year. I don’t think we knew anything about that.”

DeLuca pointed to the information that came out last week about the US Wind’s meteorological tower being installed and the company’s decision not to renew its chamber membership.

“I was very disappointed to find out the first contract awarded last week went to a Louisiana-based company,” he said. “I was also very disappointed to learn they did not renew their chamber membership.”

DeLuca pointed out the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal agency with oversight on the wind energy projects, has recently said the 26-mile distance for the turbines was plausible.

“At our last meeting, we learned that BOEM stated and put in writing that 26 nautical miles is doable,” he said. “Think about the size of the original turbines and what they applied for compared to what they are putting up now in terms of size. If a hotel in Ocean City was approved for four stories and all of a sudden they’re going to build an eight-story hotel, wouldn’t they have to re-apply with the city?”

Despite repeated setbacks, DeLuca urged his colleagues to continue to explore options of recourse for the turbine distances.

“I think it’s very important that we realize the exact same economic benefits for the state of Maryland and Worcester County at 17 miles can be achieved at 26 nautical miles without any visual pollution,” he said. “I think we need to get serious and I think we need to take stronger action.”

While he agreed with much of what DeLuca said, Councilman John Gehrig clarified the issue of the US Wind decision not to renew its chamber membership.

“Just to clarify, Mr. Paul Rich, the representative for US Wind, did write a letter to the Chamber of Commerce reprimanding the chamber for its position on the wind turbines,” he said. “They stated they would not renew their membership, but then they did renew. I just want to make that clear. Your facts were right, but they weren’t the newest facts. They renewed as recently as today or late last week.”

Rich and US Wind officials could not be reached for comment on the chamber membership renewal issue. Last week, however, Rich was frank in his assessment of the chamber renewal issue.

“If sentiments change, I can envision us renewing with the chamber, but as it stands, the chamber is in opposition to our project,” he said.

Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel this week confirmed her office received an email from Rich and US Wind on March 23 stating the company did not plan to renew its membership. However, Pursel learned late last week someone from US Wind called the chamber offices to renew the membership. Pursel said the chamber was open to continuing to work with US Wind despite the obvious rift.

“Perhaps Mr. Rich and US Wind had a change of heart,” she said. “We want to continue to have dialogue with both companies regarding these massive projects that impact Ocean City.”

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.