OCEAN CITY — For the first time in the prolonged battle over the distance of the proposed wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City, resort officials are getting tangible support from residents and visitors characterized this week as the “sleeping giant.”
Since the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) about a year ago 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 place the first line of their wind turbines as far as 26 nautical miles off the coast to ensure the turbines are not visible from the shoreline.
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 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 those efforts combined have not dissuaded US Wind from moving forward with its plan to build the first line of wind turbines 17 miles off the resort coast. However, as the projects move ahead, 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, two petitions began circulating last week seeking to add the public’s voice to the issue.
One of the petitions, the so-called White House Petition, would, as its name suggests, seek intervention from the executive branch on the wind turbine location issue. The second, or so-called MoveOn.org petition also seeks to have federal officials who still hold sway over the final decisions to mandate that the turbines be located at least 26 nautical miles offshore.
During the public comment period of the Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, Ocean City resident Debbi Rayner told the elected officials she had started the two positions and was circulating them through a Facebook page she created entitled Offshore Wind Sense Delmarva.
“I’ve been coming to Ocean City since I was a baby and moved here in 2013,” she said. “I love the ocean and I love Ocean City and its view from the shoreline. I’m generally very quiet, but when I see a wrong I speak up. These turbines at this distance are wrong on so many levels. People don’t come to Ocean City to see wind turbines.”
Rayner explained Assateague Island had been afforded protections in the PSC process to protect its viewshed, but no similar concession was given to Ocean City.
“There is a 20-mile viewshed buffer for Assateague that was requested by the Department of the Interior,” she said. “Why is Ocean City any different?”
The White House petition points out the possible impacts of visible wind turbines on Ocean City.
“There are many businesses that depend on the ocean view and they are many people who value the unadulterated, untainted view of the horizon, of the sunrises that the ocean shoreline bestows,” the petition reads. “We can have the wind turbines and the view with a mere 10-mile east movement of the turbines. They can be green and also not seen.”
Meanwhile, the MoveOn.org petition points to some of the economic concerns with the proposed siting of the wind turbines.
“We, the taxpayers are subsidizing the turbines that will cause the destruction of a view that is unparalleled and now it is time to stand up and demand that we, the people, are heard,” the petition reads. “We do not want to see the wind turbines. US Wind and Skipjack, make your millions, but put the turbines out of our sight.”
Mayor Rick Meehan praised Rayner and her supporters for the city’s efforts and said the public — the residents and visitors to Ocean City — had largely been quiet on the issue to date.
“That was very well said,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for the sleeping giant to awaken and hopefully you’ve awakened that giant. Everything you said exactly reflects the Mayor and Council’s position.”
Meehan suggested the town embrace the petition effort to gage how the public feels about not necessarily the wind energy project in general, but the proposed siting of the turbines.
“I think we need to put this on our websites and our social media platforms and let them know our citizens are here to support our position,” he said. “This is something that is going to affect us forever and today is the day to start addressing that. We will continue our efforts at every level and this could help us greatly.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca made a motion to put links to the two petitions on the town’s website and other outlets and that motion passed unanimously. By Tuesday afternoon, links to the petitions were posted on the town’s various sites. It remains uncertain if the petitions will gain momentum, but early on the response has been indecisive if not a little tepid.
The White House petition was created on April 11 and needs 100,000 signatures by May 11 in order to get a response from the White House. As of midweek, the White House petition had around 260 signatures. The MoveOn.org petition has a stated goal of 300 signatures. By midweek, the petition had garnered 246 signatures.