Business people, officials follow up PSC ruling with outrage and major concern
Ocean City officials and business leaders voiced their opposition on wind farms quickly and clearly days after the Public Service Commission (PSC) endorsed two proposals with no guarantees that they wouldn’t be seen from the shore.
Carousel Group Managing Partner Michael James has been one of the most vocal opponents and took his concerns to Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st) during a summit on resort real estate last Thursday and to the business community during Friday’s Ocean City Economic Development Committee breakfast meeting.
“Think about what 200 windmills would do to the sunrise,” James said to Harris on May 11. “People come here to enjoy that. They’ll be walking on the beach, seeing these things that are 670 feet tall. They say we’ll benefit from this, but it’s Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey beaches that’s going to benefit.”
Supporters like the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a nonprofit that focuses on advancing wind energy, point out there’s a different view of the turbines.
“I’ve gone out to the water in Europe’s beaches and you have to strain to see their turbines. But when you see them, they’re like elegant machines against an ocean backdrop,” Liz Burdock, the executive director of Business Network for Offshore Wind, said in a separate interview.
The two wind farm projects the PSC approved two ware for separate lease areas, one in the waters closer to downtown and one off the coast of 145th Street. U.S. Wind would use the southern site and install 62 turbines 12-15 miles off the coast, while Skipjack would build 15 turbines 17-21 miles out up north.
The PSC’s conditional approval ignores Ocean City Council’s repeated petitions to put the projects roughly 23 miles away. There was a compromise to put U.S. Wind’s project, the one that alarmed officials the most because of its proximity, further back. The PSC said it needed to be located “as far east in the lease area as reasonable.”
That was not enough for some real estate and condominium leaders like Delmarva Condominium Managers Association President Joe Groves and Coastal Association of Realtors Board of Directors member Joe Wilson. Wilson told Harris that in Ocean City, several condominiums have a $75,000 price difference, depending on whether the room faces the ocean or the bay.
“Obviously, if the value of oceanfront properties go down, then Ocean City has to get that tax revenue somewhere. The town has to change how it operates,” Wilson said.
“It’ll be a disaster to our real estate values if you want an oceanfront property and see windmills everywhere.” Groves added. “You’d think you were on some lake, not the ocean.”
Harris said he was never a fan of wind energy, but was doubtful that Gov. Hogan or Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen would oppose the projects outright. Instead, he said he would be looking into the wind lease areas through the Department of Interior.
“Wind subsidies make no sense for energy. Natural gas and electricity are much cheaper and you don’t need a back-up generator. This should have ended before it started,” Harris said. “The [Trump] administration doesn’t have a problem with changing their minds on leases. They just reversed [on] oil exploration leases.”
Meanwhile at a local level, Ocean City council members stayed on message: move the turbines back.
“It’s OK if it’s out there and we don’t really see it,” Councilman Wayne Hartman said during the May 12 Economic Development Committee meeting. “It’s $1 million a mile to move them back, and in the grand scheme of things, for everyone’s happiness. Hopefully, the companies will work with us on this.”
Councilman John Gehrig said at the same meeting that because Ocean City’s real estate/tourism industries pay the bills, they should be protected.
“It’s reasonable to think that someone may not like looking at a wind farm that extends from downtown Ocean City all the way up. Some people will pause and not want to invest here, and our number one source of revenue is property taxes,” he said. “It’ll impact everyone, from the city to the county to the state.”
Burdock, however, said her studies found no decrease in property values in Block Island, Rhode Island, where the first offshore wind farm was installed.
“Tourism seems to have increased. Anecdotally, we have heard that thousands of visitors want to see the turbines,” she said. “I believe it’ll be a great attraction, not just for tourism but other industries like shipbuilding and steel, because they’ll be needed.
“It’ll also develop other jobs for Ocean City and Maryland, in technical services like construction or those that need to operate the control center,” Burdock said. “You might see 150 to 300 jobs directly as a result from this.”