OCEAN CITY — With the clock ticking on a Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) decision on one of two offshore wind project proposals off the coast of Ocean City, or perhaps both, resort officials this week decided to fire off another letter expressing their desire to have the turbines far enough beyond the horizon to have zero visual impact on the town.
The PSC is currently reviewing two proposals for an offshore wind project off the coast of Ocean City and a decision on either or perhaps both could come as soon as May 17. One proposal from US Wind calls for as many as 187 turbines as close as 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City situated more directly off the coast of the resort. The second project from Deepwater Wind, called the Skipjack project, is considerable smaller in scale with just 15 turbines in an area more situated off the coast of neighboring Delaware, but the Skipjack project’s turbines are considerably taller than the US Wind turbines.
In either case, the Mayor and Council, which got detailed presentations on both projects last month, have fiercely opposed either project only if their turbines are visible from the resort coast either in the daytime or at night with their flashing red beacons. The town’s elected officials have repeatedly said they support offshore wind and clean energy alternatives in general, but strongly oppose having the turbines impacting the pristine vistas from the resort coast.
The council’s letter to the PSC and the appropriate state and federal elected officials expressing a desire to have neither project’s turbines visible at all from the resort’s shoreline. That distance has been somewhat nebulous with differing opinions on how far is far enough, but Councilman Tony DeLuca maintained this week his research and everything he has learned from experts suggests the safe distance is at least 26 miles. He suggested a second letter be sent to the PSC expressing a desire in no uncertain terms that either project approved be at least that far. DeLuca said the urgency is even more acute because he has learned the PSC could approve both projects.
“The PSC has started deliberations on the proposed offshore wind farm proposals and a decision will likely be made by May 17,” he said. “They can and may approve both projects. I think we should be very urgent and very specific about our desire that the turbines for either project not be visible at all from our shoreline. I’ll take it a step further. I think we should state in no uncertain terms the Mayor and Council do not support either project if it is within 26 miles of the coast of Ocean City. I want the language to be 26 miles. I don’t want them to come any closer than that. I think both projects can be accomplished, but I also think we need to be urgent and we need to do it now. I think the situation has changed. I just want to make our point again, only louder.”
Mayor Rick Meehan, who authored the original letter last month, said its language was clear on the town’s desire not to see the turbines at all, but did not include specific information about desired distances.
“I don’t think my original letter said anything about 26 miles,” he said. “The original letter said we don’t want to see them period. I wasn’t specific about the distance because I’m not sure we know that the magic number is. I think we need to say we don’t want to see them period.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight agreed the town’s latest letter needed to be specific about the town’s desired distance because leaving it open-ended could result in a closer location for either project or both.
“I tend to agree with Councilman DeLuca,” she said. “Our research shows 26 miles. If you leave it vague, they can come back with 15, 18 or 20 miles. Deepwater’s turbines are as tall as a 60-story building and you can see them at 19 miles.”
DeLuca went to great lengths to point out Ocean City is not opposed to either project and embraces offshore wind energy if the turbines are situated at a distance not visible from shore.
“A lot of the literature makes it seem like we’re against wind power, but that’s not the case at all,” he said. “I just think we need to make it known we want them further offshore so we don’t have any significant impact on the views from the shore or even zero if that can be accomplished.”
After considerable deliberation, the council voted unanimously to send a second letter making it known in no uncertain terms its opposition to have turbines within view of Ocean City. That letter was drafted this week and sent to the PSC on Thursday.
“First, we would like to make clear that the Mayor and Council support the concept of clean energy including offshore wind, provided it is done in a responsible manner,” the letter reads. “Specifically, the Mayor and Council’s support for offshore wind is contingent on the projects not being visible from the Ocean City shoreline.”
The town’s letter sent on Thursday in advance of likely final decision by May 17 urges the PSC to reject any proposal that includes turbines visible from the resort’s coast.
“Both applicants have presented photographic renderings which purport to show that their projects will have minimal impact on our ocean views,” the letter reads. “However, these renderings are inconsistent depending on the time of day, weather conditions, location along the coast and height of the viewer. We believe a more objective requirement should be established to insure that neither project cases significant harm to the oceanfront vista.”
The letter suggests a simple, objective calculation can determine the distance an object is visible over the horizon based on the height of the turbines and the viewer. The letter says the town can support a project where the top of the turbine mast is beyond the calculated horizon line to a viewer at ground level. Although the blade of turbines located at that distance may still be visible, the blade is not lit at night and is small enough to be indistinguishable.
“In addition, while the turbines at that distance may still be visible from an upper story condominium or hotel room, we acknowledge that requiring these structures to be completely invisible from a 10-plus story building is not feasible,” the letter reads.
The Mayor and Council’s letter to the PSC is very specific about the distances of the turbines from the shore for each project per DeLuca’s request. For example, the US Wind project’s turbines at about 350-feet tall must be located a minimum of 23 miles from the shoreline and the proposed Deepwater project turbines at nearly 500 feet from the water line to the top of the mast must be located 26 miles from the shoreline.
“The Ocean City Mayor and Council may support either or both projects provided those minimum distances are achieved and our previously stated concerns regarding construction, maintenance activities and high-voltage shore-side infrastructure are addressed. If an applicant declines to maintain those distances, we would urge the commission to deny that application,” the letter reads.