OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week agreed to reiterate the town’s opposition to the proposed location of wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City, suggesting they be placed even further offshore than what was originally desired.
After months of relative inactivity in the ongoing development of offshore wind energy farms off the coast of Ocean City, the issue arose anew near the end of Tuesday’s Mayor and Council meeting with Councilman Tony DeLuca pushing for another letter to the governor outlining the town’s opposition to the proposed siting of the vast turbines just 17 miles offshore.
Since the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2017 approved two offshore wind energy projects off the coast of Ocean City, town officials have been in a prolonged battle to have the two approved companies site their wind turbines as far as 26 nautical miles off the coast, or a distance believed to have the turbines not visible from the shoreline. After considerable debate, US Wind acquiesced somewhat and has since agreed to place its turbines no closer than 17 miles from the resort’s coast.
However, DeLuca on Tuesday asked Mayor Rick Meehan to send a letter to Governor Larry Hogan reiterating the town’s position on the two offshore wind projects. DeLuca said the letter should confirm Ocean City is not opposed to the concept of offshore wind farms, but merely wanted the turbines sited at a distance from which they would not be visible from the shore.
Instead of the 26-mile distance pushed for by Ocean City officials since the beginning the process, DeLuca said the town should now push to have the approved companies site their turbines much further offshore than Ocean City originally requested.
“I think it’s time to reiterate our position on wind farms,” he said. “I’d like to request the mayor send a letter to the governor once again to let him know we support wind farms, but they must be 33 miles offshore.”
The council agreed and determined the required action did not require a formal motion and vote. Instead, Meehan agreed to send the requested letter to the governor. DeLuca said the reasoning behind asking to push the wind turbines even farther offshore was because technological advances since the original approval by the PSC have resulted in the development of much taller turbines capable of producing even more energy.
“I just want to make it clear to the public, especially now that they’ve gone from eight megawatts to 12 megawatts,” he said. “They need to be 33 miles offshore so they are not visible.”
The approved US Wind project would place turbines as close as 17 miles from shore in the first phase, while the approved Deepwater Wind project would place its turbines in a range of about 17-21 miles offshore, or the western edge of the designated Wind Energy Area (WEA). While the Town of Ocean City has said repeatedly it supports clean, renewable offshore wind energy, it does not want the turbines placed in close enough proximity to the shore to impact the viewsheds from the resort.
In the many months since, the prolonged battle has included at least two formal resolutions passed by the Mayor and Council, endless discussions on how best to address the wind turbine distance issue, a spirited letter-writing campaign carried out by all parties, and even a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would force the siting of the wind turbines at least 26 nautical miles offshore.
All of those efforts combined have not dissuaded US Wind from moving forward with its plan to site the first line of wind turbines 17 miles off the resort coast and the projects continue to move forward. However, it’s important to note there are still several federal regulatory hurdles to overcome for the two proposed wind energy projects and there will be ample opportunity for the town and its officials to weigh in again.
In the meantime, the next step in the US Wind project is the installation of a 328-foot tall meteorological, or met, tower about 17 miles off the coast of Ocean City roughly in the middle of the company’s approved Wind Energy Area. The tower will be used to collect wind resource data within the Maryland lease area in advance of the future installation of as many as 32 massive offshore wind turbines.
The installation of the met tower was originally slated for July, but the project has been continually pushed back for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was storm activity in August in the Gulf of Mexico, where the tower is being delivered. The project has been moved back to sometime this month, but with Hurricane Dorian wreaking havoc along the eastern seaboard this week, there is no firm time table for the installation of the met tower.