After a dozen people criticized the Ocean City Council’s recent opposition to the location of the proposed wind farms, city officials clarified that they welcome green energy in the resort.
“It’s not like we’re writing letters saying that we don’t want this,” Council President Lloyd Martin said Monday night. “We want to do this right the first time. We’re not the bad guys here – we want to make this work.”
The show of support for the wind farm came two weeks after city officials objected to a plan that would have wind turbines close enough to shore to be seen. Fearing that the such a view might affect tourism negatively, the mayor and council agreed to send a letter to state officials expressing their opposition.
Two weeks ago, it was the U.S. Wind’s proposal that concerned the council, while on Monday the council heard Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski outline his company’s plan to build an offshore wind farm.
Like US Wind, Deepwater is seeking Public Service Commission permission to develop at least part of the 80,000-acre wind energy field created by the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act in 2013.
The energy areas are somewhere between 10 to 30 miles off Ocean City’s coast and are divided in two lease areas: closer to the Delaware line and the other near downtown Ocean City.
Deepwater’s “Skipjack” project would have 15 wind turbines, each producing eight megawatts of power. Each windmill would stand around 600 feet tall from the tip of the blade to the base. In comparison, U.S. Wind, proposed 187 turbines at 480 feet tall.
Grybowski said one key difference between Deepwater Wind’s proposal and that of its rival is that Deepwater’s would be roughly 20 miles away from the beach around 145th Street.
“We’re called Deepwater Wind, not coast water wind,” Grybowski told the council. “The company tag line is ‘clean energy just over the horizon.’ We took a very deliberate approach on how to structure this because we understand the economy around the coast. You’re going to have to want to see the turbines.”
He added that the project would be able to expand, but would go further north to serve Delaware and New Jersey.
Councilman Tony DeLuca, who first asked the council send a letter of opposition to the U.S. Wind’s proposal, still had reservations about this project’s visual impact.
“I’ve talked to three engineers and all of them told me that with the curvature of the earth and the horizon, they would have to be at least 26 miles offshore to be not visible at all,” DeLuca said.
“We certainly would consider [moving the turbines back],” Grybowski answered. “I’m just asking you to take a look at what is theoretical to see and what the average person can actually see.”
Another issue the council struggled with was that Deepwater Wind wanted to have the transmission line come ashore in Ocean City. Grybowski said there are existing substations to which the wind farm could connect. It would also make Deepwater Wind a taxpayer, which would put millions of dollars in municipal taxes, he said.
After listening to Grybowski, Martin repeated that he and the council had concerns about the distance of either wind farm project. He added that if it costs $1 million per mile to move the turbines further away, that would be a suitable solution.
“We want to hear it will be 27 miles offshore and nobody will see it and it will create jobs and clean energy and we’re not hearing that from anybody,” he said. “We’re talking about $6 million more on a $700 million project. It’s certainly not peanuts, but in the big scheme of things it could make this project more acceptable.”
Grybowski understood the council’s argument, but said the turbines’ location also depended on the defined wind energy area.
“It’s not just about money. We have a defined area we have to work with, and there’s a limit to how far back we can move,” he said.
During the public comment period, roughly 12 people spoke in favor of the wind project coming to Ocean City. Among them was Greg Knepp, who asked the council to rescind its letter of opposition, and his daughter, Maya.
“Young people are really concerned about this,” she said. The Stephen Decatur High School junior added, “Renewable energy is important for our future. There won’t be property taxes to worry about in the future if our earth is dead and we don’t do something now.”
Others like Tom Murray, who used to work with the Environmental Protection Agency, said that with time the wind turbines would fade from visitor’s minds.
“There’s something called the Edison effect. Mr. [Thomas] Edison decided to put up telephone poles all over the country. I dare anyone to go outside and see one. We’ve gotten so used to them,” Murray said.
Other commentators said that they would be fine with seeing the wind farm on the horizon if it meant clean energy, and new jobs, would come to Worcester County.
“They might be visible, but I see inspiration. We’re finally moving forward and getting more progressive on how we can live on this earth,” said Gerald White, a Berlin resident. “I think it will be inspirational to come to the beach and see these turbines far off along the horizon.”
Following the public comment, Councilman John Gehrig said that the council had to consider both sides of the argument as it proceeds.
“We received a ton of calls and emails. Fifty percent say support it, 50 percent say ‘you’d better not,’” Gehrig said. “If half the people no longer have an interest in the residential oceanfront property because of this, they can look elsewhere. It’s not that we don’t like turbines. The point is what is the risk? That is why pushing them out a little more is so important to us.”