Winds of Change: Source of power and struggle

In a nondescript building near BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, a glimpse of Maryland’s clean energy future is on vivid display.

Climb up to the captain’s bridge on a replica of a Coast Guard cutter, but hold on tight: It can be a wild ride.

The ship is cutting through the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The waves are high and rain is lashing the windows. As captain, you’ll need to adjust speed and remain vigilant to keep the boat upright and avoid the 800-foot towers up ahead.

The experience feels real enough to cause seasickness — even though nothing’s moving.

It’s a simulation, meant to recreate the sensation of navigating a ship through a wind energy farm in the Atlantic, with lifelike images of windmills, sea, varying weather patterns and other vessels projected across eight giant screens. In a smaller room in the same building, a virtual fishing trawler makes a similar journey through an array of computer-generated wind turbines.

This set-up, on the campus of the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in Linthicum Heights, is part of one company’s campaign to show stakeholders what its wind farms will look like in the ocean — and what mariners will need... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

In a nondescript building near BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, a glimpse of Maryland’s clean energy future is on vivid display.

Climb up to the captain’s bridge on a replica of a Coast Guard cutter, but hold on tight: It can be a wild ride.

The ship is cutting through the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The waves are high and rain is lashing the windows. As captain, you’ll need to adjust speed and remain vigilant to keep the boat upright and avoid the 800-foot towers up ahead.

The experience feels real enough to cause seasickness — even though nothing’s moving.

It’s a simulation, meant to recreate the sensation of navigating a ship through a wind energy farm in the Atlantic, with lifelike images of windmills, sea, varying weather patterns and other vessels projected across eight giant screens. In a smaller room in the same building, a virtual fishing trawler makes a similar journey through an array of computer-generated wind turbines.

This set-up, on the campus of the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in Linthicum Heights, is part of one company’s campaign to show stakeholders what its wind farms will look like in the ocean — and what mariners will need to know to navigate around them.

“It’s a really powerful depiction,” said Elizabeth Kretovich, Mid-Atlantic marine affairs manager for Ørsted, one of two energy companies with plans to erect wind turbines in the waters off Ocean City. “It gives us a real sense of the scope and scale. I think it’s an ‘aha’ moment. It takes away the ambiguity by just showing it. It removes the fear of the unknown.”

The training center is one of the few tangible signs that the consequential and growing offshore wind industry may well be coming to Maryland’s Atlantic shore in just a few years.

The arrival of powerful turbines off the coast of Ocean City, each about 800 feet tall, is likely to be a transformational development. It’s part of a greater strategy by the Biden administration to promote clean energy and it will help Maryland leaders fulfill their goals for generating carbon-free electricity.

Wind energy could also be a powerful driver for key parts of the state’s economy — both on the Delmarva Peninsula and at the Tradepoint Atlantic industrial development in eastern Baltimore County, site of a former Bethlehem Steel plant.

“Offshore wind is a game-changing industry that has the potential to create good-paying jobs while delivering clean, renewable energy to millions of homes,” said Sam Salustro, director of coalitions and strategic partnerships at the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, member-funded organization with a mission to develop the offshore wind industry and its supply chain.

The arrival of the windmills, most likely by the middle of this decade, feels both close at hand and very, very far off.

The push to bring offshore wind energy to the Maryland coast has been circuitous and contentious — and it isn’t quite a done deal yet.

Opposition is strongest in Ocean City, where many business, civic and political leaders believe the presence of wind turbines several miles offshore could jeopardize the tourism industry and the real estate market. Commercial and recreational fishermen and a regional conservative think tank are among other opponents.

But there are plenty of signs that the nascent industry is beginning to wake up and get ready. Just last week, US Wind, another company seeking to erect turbines off the Maryland coast, dropped a meteorological and oceanographic buoy to collect wind and marine life data in the waters off Ocean City. These measurements, along with surface meteorology and ocean condition observations, will help inform US Wind’s energy production estimates and overall project design.

Two proposed wind farms are under review by the federal government: The MarWin project, from US Wind, which is owned by an Italian infrastructure and construction company and a U.S. investment firm, would generate 240 megawatts of power, enough to power almost 80,000 homes for a year, from windmills it would first place 17 miles off the coast. That project, if it stays on course, could go live in 2024.

Ørsted, a Danish company that has been in the business for three decades, is seeking to generate 120 megawatts of power with its Skipjack development in federal waters just north of Ocean City, 19 miles off the coast. That project, which could power 35,000 homes, is tentatively scheduled to go online in 2026.

Both projects would provide electricity to Maryland utilities — and ease the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Final approval rests with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that is leasing sections of federal waters for wind energy development. BOEM has sprung to life since President Biden took office: Last month, the agency approved a massive wind energy development 12 miles off the coasts of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. The Vineyard Wind project is slated to produce 800 megawatts of energy — enough to power about 400,000 homes and businesses.

A project with up to 84 turbines, Vineyard Wind represents the biggest offshore wind operation to gain federal approval to date. So far, there are only two pilot projects and a total of seven turbines in U.S. waters — five off the coast of Block Island, R.I., and two off the coast of Virginia Beach. The latter is the first stage of a much bigger project that will grow over time.

Most renewable energy advocates believe the federal approval of the Massachusetts project will serve as a template for other proposed offshore wind developments up and down the Atlantic coast, and should expedite their environmental reviews.

A top energy official in the Biden administration, which is pushing clean energy technology both as a way to confront climate change and create high-paying jobs, has said as much.

“We will continue to advance new projects that will incorporate lessons learned from analyzing this project to ensure an efficient and predictable process for industry and stakeholders,” Amanda Lefton, the BOEM director, said when the agency approved the Vineyard Wind farm.

Maryland supporters of the offshore wind industry, who have grown frustrated by years of delays, couldn’t be happier.

“It was like putting the key in the ignition and turning the key,” said Mike Dunn, president and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, a business and civic group that has for several years been pushing the economic benefits of offshore wind for the Lower Eastern Shore.

Who’s leading on wind?

Unless BOEM rejects the two Maryland proposals, which seems highly unlikely, or they get bogged down in legal challenges, offshore wind is coming to Maryland.

How will it happen? What does it mean? Are communities getting ready? And is Maryland poised to be a leader in the industry?

On the last question, based on sheer numbers alone, the answer is, maybe not. The amount of offshore wind energy that Maryland has initially authorized pales in comparison to other Atlantic states.

Maryland law currently mandates that the state generate 1,568 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030 — a number that rose from 400 megawatts only with the passage in the General Assembly of the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2019.

By contrast, New York law will enable 9,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035. New Jersey law calls for 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy to be generated by 2035. In Massachusetts, it’s 5,600 by 2035, in Virginia it’s 5,200 by 2034, and in Connecticut, it’s 2,000 megawatts by 2030.

By the same token, Maryland law currently mandates only 50% use of renewable energy by 2030. Several Atlantic states have laws that require 100% renewable energy use, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut by 2040, Virginia, by somewhere between 2045 and 2050, and Maine, by 2050.

Several states also have interim goals that eclipse Maryland’s. New York currently has a 70% renewable mandate by 2030 on the books. Connecticut has a 40% mandate by 2030. Massachusetts has a 35% mandate by 2030, but the amount of renewable energy use is supposed to increase by 1% every subsequent year. Rhode Island has a 38.5% renewable energy mandate by 2035. New Jersey’s current mandate is, like Maryland’s, 50% by 2030, but then goes up to 100%.

The Maryland Department of the Environment released a 279-page report in February that lays out how it plans to implement the state’s 50% renewable mandate by 2030, and proposes ways for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. But the Hogan administration’s bill to codify many of the recommendations, the Clean and Renewable Energy Standards (CARES) Act, was introduced late in the 2021 General Assembly session and went nowhere. An aggressive legislative package to address climate change, the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, stalled when House and Senate leaders fought over key provisions.

“We’ve been watching these and tracking them and frankly we’re disappointed that it’s been so slow in Maryland,” said Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, one of several environmental groups that have promoted offshore wind energy for decades. “It’s almost hard to figure out why that happened.”

Some critics believe it’s a simple question of political leadership.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on a carbon-free platform in 2017, with strong backing from environmental groups.

“I’d love to see our leaders say, ‘I want offshore wind turbines off the shore of Maryland in X number of years,'” Coble said.

Democratic candidates for governor are almost certain to embrace making the state carbon-free over the next few decades. One potential candidate, former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, published a commentary in The Baltimore Sun this spring that lay the blame for the slow development of the offshore wind industry in Maryland at Hogan’s feet.

Salustro, of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said when states adopt aggressive policies to promote offshore wind developments, private sector investments follow.

“Due to offshore wind’s job creation potential, competition between the states to secure industry investment is fierce; other states, including New York and New Jersey, have made offshore wind capacity procurement goals many times larger than Maryland, helping them to attract investment activity,” he said. “The offshore wind market will continue to grow as demand for renewable energy increases nationally and globally. Maryland has more opportunities to leverage its strengths, capture more economic benefits and create more jobs, but the state must soon take actions to make itself more market competitive and attractive to investors.”

But many stakeholders in the wind energy industry say it is difficult to compare one state’s commitment and progress to others because there are so many variables, and so many states have experienced delays in the regulatory process.

“While we’re all disappointed in the pace, the good news is, every state is disappointed in the pace, so it’s not just a Maryland thing,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of US Wind.

Shifting winds

Not long ago, Maryland appeared to be ahead of the curve when it came to developing offshore wind energy projects.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation, sponsored by then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), enabling offshore wind development. The measure passed on its second go-round; in 2012, a similar bill passed in the House but stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.

O’Malley himself lobbied heavily for the legislation and also testified at bill hearings before the relevant legislative committees (some cynics wondered whether O’Malley’s fervor for the idea was part of his strategy to become a viable presidential candidate).

A Republican administration took over in Annapolis in 2015, when Hogan was sworn in, and a Republican administration took over at the federal level in 2017, when Donald Trump became president. Despite some Democrats’ rhetoric, it is hard to say definitely, however, whether partisan politics actually impeded the progress of offshore wind.

Even though Trump was a vocal cheerleader for fossil fuels, BOEM during his administration continued to process applications for offshore wind projects and conduct environmental reviews. But the agency was, by many accounts, understaffed, and that contributed to the slow pace of activity — a situation that is beginning to change.

Hogan has become a vocal supporter of offshore wind. Last fall, he signed a compact with Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to collaborate and advance offshore wind projects and to promote the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast as hubs for the industry. The compact was given the kind of catchy handle that Hogan favors: the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER).

“Joining this multi-state partnership to expand offshore wind development will further our strong record of supporting responsible energy projects that provide jobs, clean air benefits, and energy independence,” Hogan said when the agreement was reached.

At a virtual seminar late last month to encourage Maryland businesses to provide services to the offshore wind industry, a state official said the practical impact of the three-state compact was to get the states to cooperate on procurement, encourage companies to consider the region for offshore wind development, and develop a workforce to serve the industry.

“The market is going to get a lot bigger very fast,” the official told the dozen executives of shipping, engineering and construction companies who were listening in on the seminar, which was sponsored by MEA, the Business Network for Offshore Wind and the College of Southern Maryland.

Sponsoring the conference was just one example of how state government is attempting to aid offshore wind. Maryland companies have received grants from the MEA or the Department of Commerce to provide services to the industry. The state is a big backer of the Tradepoint Atlantic development in Baltimore County, where turbines and other heavy-duty supplies for the wind projects will be assembled and shipped to Ocean City.

In its recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which were released this spring to coincide with the Biden administration’s announcement that the U.S. would be rejoining the international Paris climate accord, the Maryland Department of the Environment cited offshore wind as a key element for getting the state to net-zero carbon emissions. Four years ago, the MEA endorsed one of the two companies that wound up being approved by a state regulatory agency to install wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City.

But until Hogan signed the compact with his counterparts to the immediate south, there had been no full-throated statements from the governor or his administration that offshore wind was a top priority. No full-on push in the General Assembly to mandate 100% renewable energy use. And that can make a difference in the race to become a leader in the industry.

“I think there’s opportunity for Maryland to be successful and have really important offshore wind projects off Maryland’s shores. I don’t think there’s any kind of lethal blow to the efforts,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, who headed the MEA under O’Malley, led BOEM during President Obama’s second term and is now president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“I do think it requires political leadership and business acumen to build the public support that’s necessary.”

On Friday, Hogan vetoed legislation that would have expedited the state permitting process for certain renewable energy projects in the state. Hogan said the “environmental complexity” of these projects requires longer reviews than the timetable laid out in the legislation, which was supported by environmentalists and clean energy groups.

The push to bring offshore wind to Maryland has been complicated, to say the least.

In 2017, four years after the enabling legislation passed in Annapolis, the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates energy utilities and had been designated by the federal government to award leases for offshore wind developments in federal waters, approved not one but two projects off the coast of Ocean City.

The fact that two companies were chosen, when it wasn’t even clear if one bidder was going to be selected, was surprising. US Wind was granted a lease to generate 240 megawatts of power, with 20-22 windmills it would initially place 17 miles off the Ocean City coast (though subsequent turbines could be as close as 13 miles from the coast). Deepwater (which was later purchased by Ørsted), was granted the right to generate 120 megawatts of power with its Skipjack development in Delaware waters just north of Ocean City, with 10 turbines 19 miles off the coast.

Both projects would run cables under the ocean and connect to the electric grid on land, providing energy to utilities in Maryland and other states. The US Wind project will power an estimated 80,000 homes, while Ørsted’s will power a projected 35,000 homes.

The PSC decision to select two bidders may have inadvertently created problems for both companies — though neither will say so publicly. It meant both proposals would inevitably be seen by the public as part of one entity; the misfires of one company, real or perceived, would be ascribed to the other. Competitors would become accidental collaborators of sorts — whether they wanted to be or not.

Grybowski, the US Wind CEO — who previously headed Deepwater — was circumspect about the situation.

“Competition is a good thing,” he said. “There’s no such thing as winner-take-all in this industry. It’s too big.”

Even though offshore wind had been debated in the State House for years, with the implications for Ocean City abundantly clear, the PSC decision made the prospect of the wind farms all the more real. So business, civic and political leadership of Maryland’s No. 1 tourist town immediately amped up their opposition.

Town officials said they had no problem with the concept of offshore wind — they just worried that having turbines so close to the shoreline would obstruct views, jeopardize property values and drive tourists away.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll go forward with those projects — just further offshore,” said state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R), whose district includes both Ocean City and Lower Shore communities that see economic opportunities in the wind farms.

But that increases the expense for the wind companies, which have to dig trenches and extend cables under the ocean floor to connect them to the electric grid on land.

Ocean City hired Bruce C. Bereano, the second highest-earning lobbyist in Annapolis, with close ties to Hogan, to fight the offshore projects in the State House and on Capitol Hill. U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), who represents the Eastern Shore, introduced amendments to House appropriations bills to require that offshore wind turbines be at least 30 miles from shore; those were never adopted. A bill in 2018 to push the turbines 30 miles from shore, sponsored by Eastern Shore Republicans, also failed in Annapolis.

The Hogan administration through this time was sending out mixed signals, according to several people involved in the offshore wind debate. Before the Public Service Commission awarded the two leases in 2017, the Maryland Energy Administration had written a memo favoring one of the two successful bidders, Deepwater.

But Hogan himself vetoed one clean energy bill during his first term, which expanded state goals for renewable energy use (the veto was overridden a year later), and let a second clean energy bill become law without his signature in 2019, calling it “a rushed and deeply flawed proposal in need of significant improvements.”

Hogan, allies said, believed that former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), whom Hogan had served as appointments secretary, lost re-election to O’Malley to 2006 in part because he went along with legislative measures that led to hikes on consumers’ electric bills. The offshore wind legislation of 2013 said Maryland ratepayers could be charged up to an extra $1.50 a month on their electric bills to ensure that utilities wouldn’t be financially penalized for using more expensive wind energy.

And Hogan plainly did not want to weigh in on the issue of turbines off the coast of the state’s tourist mecca as he was seeking re-election in 2018 — just as his friend Bereano was pressing the town’s case. Hogan knew he was going to run up the vote on the Eastern Shore, and his superior political instincts were on target. That year, voters on the Lower Shore ousted state Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D), a former Ocean City mayor who had supported O’Malley’s offshore wind bill, in favor of Carozza, who was then serving in the House of Delegates.

Given the district’s growing conservatism, Mathias’ defeat was probably inevitable, but his support for offshore wind was no doubt a factor. In fact, when Republican lawmakers including Carozza sponsored the legislation early in 2018 to push the wind turbines further from shore, the House Economic Matters Committee killed the measure first so Mathias would not be asked to vote on it in the Senate Finance Committee. The gesture was not enough to save him politically.

The offshore original

Even as Ocean City leaders were warning about the potentially adverse economic impact of the wind turbines, 270 nautical miles up the coast, in Block Island, R.I., residents and business leaders celebrated the arrival of a pilot project that placed five turbines three miles from the island — after some initial skepticism.

Lars Trodson, the executive director of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, said residents are like Parisians who first thought the Eiffel Tower was ugly and now embrace it as the leading symbol of the city.

“We always kind of figured that the wind turbines, no matter where you were, would just become part of the landscape,” Trodson said.

Not only did the turbines provide energy for the entire community of 1,100 residents, which had depended on diesel generators to power the island’s homes and businesses, but they proved to be an attraction in their own right, and tour boats often take people out to see them.

Former Maryland Del. Sally Jameson, a Charles County Democrat who was vice chair of the powerful House Economic Matters Committee, took a tour of the Block Island turbines five years ago and said it was helpful to see wind energy up close after years of debating the concept.

“I had done so much work on the offshore wind bills, so it was good to take some of that knowledge and see how it was being turned into reality,” she said. “Those [tour] boats were always full. People found [the turbines] to be very interesting. They were interested in seeing how they fit into the environment.”

Jameson also visited a larger wind installation off the coast of Hull, England, where about 75 turbines are spinning in the North Sea. The wind energy industry has replaced fishing as the town’s chief source of income, she said. “It was neat to see this economy take off.”

Jameson believes people who fret about unspoiled views from Ocean City being ruined by windmills “would come away with a different impression if they could see it. Have you ever been on a boat 15 or 18 miles away from the coast? That’s a hell of a long way.”

Closer to home, mini-economies are growing up over wind energy in the Atlantic. When Ørsted, the Danish wind energy company and international leader in the industry, acquired the Skipjack lease off Ocean City, it quickly announced that it would use space at TradePoint Atlantic, the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Baltimore County, to assemble the windmills to get them ready for placement in Atlantic waters. US Wind is also housed at the major development, using the space for industrial purposes.

In Salisbury, 30 miles west of Ocean City, business leaders say wind energy can be a boon for local companies looking to service the industry.

“We thought inherently that the Mid-Atlantic region was perfectly situated to take advantage of an emerging industry,” said Dunn, the president of the Greater Salisbury Committee. “TradePoint Atlantic is for construction. But there’s opportunity here. Every single day during the life of wind turbines, there’s going to be maintenance. Crews are going to be out there on the turbines themselves and there will be work on every single widget.”

Aided by a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration, one Salisbury company, Arcon Training Center, started six years ago and began offering training courses for welders and metal fabricators to service the wind industry. Several dozen people have gone through the program and all have found jobs up and down the East Coast, said Katrina Ennerfelt, the company president.

More recently, the company, with a grant from the Maryland Department of Commerce, has begun offering five-day safety training courses for people who want to be providing emergency services to the wind energy operations. The course includes segments on first aid, fire awareness and sea survival, among other skills — and at the end of the five-day course the trainees emerge with a certificate from the Global Wind Organization, an international accreditation agency.

The dozen or so people who have already gone through it have also come away with jobs, Ennerfelt said.

“Somewhere along the line we realized this training part worked really well for us,” she said. “With offshore wind coming up we knew there would be an insane shortage of skilled labor.”

Several advocates for offshore wind energy — including in the Biden administration — believe the economic argument is every bit as powerful, if not more so, than the argument that the turbines will help battle climate change.

In Maryland, both Ørsted and US Wind tout the thousands of jobs they’ll create in Maryland and the millions of dollars they’re investing in communities. The Public Service Commission estimates that the two projects will bring about 5,000 jobs to the state.

“As we move out of the pandemic, it’s tough to talk to people about climate change,” Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate adviser, conceded during a webinar hosted last month by The Washington Post.

“But I think President Biden’s real role and what he’s embraced is talking about things that matter to people. And climate change can be a kitchen table issue if you just talk about it from the standpoint of, what kind of jobs are we going to create? How do we make sure that we’re investing in every community? How do we make sure we’re not leaving any workers behind? What kind of future do you want for our children?”

Community conversations

The two companies that are looking to bring offshore wind turbines to Maryland are intensifying their community outreach as the COVID-19 pandemic loosens its grip.

US Wind, for example, just hired two community and conservation leaders with business ties to head their outreach efforts in Maryland and Delaware. The new Maryland development manager is Dave Wilson, a long-time resident of Worcester County, who has served as public outreach coordinator of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and executive director of the National Estuary Program. His family owns residential and commercial property in the town and he is also the president of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership. That’s significant, because several bird enthusiasts have expressed fears that wind turbines could be harmful to several endangered bird species.

“I’ve spent the bulk of my career working to advance projects that benefit both the environment and the residents of Ocean City,” Wilson said. 

Asked in an interview what his strategy is for the next several months, he replied, “My real job is to listen.”

Grybowski, US Wind’s CEO, elaborated: “Our job is to provide people with information and facts. We’re going to get most people to think, ‘ok, that’s a good idea.’ I can’t change someone’s ideology. But we can get past the newness of the technology. Most people have never seen an offshore wind farm.”

Carozza, the state senator, said the company is meeting with Ocean City officials and other stakeholders roughly every six weeks.

“I do want to credit US Wind for making the effort to keep the town apprised of their status,” she said.

Brady Walker, a former Hogan administration economic development official who is now Mid-Atlantic market manager for Ørsted, said his company is also ramping up its in-person “listening tour” as the pandemic wanes and virtual meetings wind down.

“We try to be as transparent about it as possible and explain what we’re doing,” he said. “People have pretty well-founded, justifiable questions.”

Ørsted’s simulator at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in Linthicum Heights is part of the company’s outreach to mariners, commercial and recreational fishermen, and others.

Walker said Ørsted has some advantages over its competitors because the company has been around so long and is dominant in Europe, which brings a level of credibility.

“We are the global leader,” he said. “We didn’t arrive in that position by taking shortcuts or moving fast.”

Ørsted has been boosting its profile in recent weeks by sponsoring the Washington Post online conversation with McCarthy, the Biden administration climate official, and by sponsoring the daily email to readers from Politico‘s Morning Energy. Earlier this spring, Ørsted snagged a place on Time magazine’s inaugural list of 100 most influential companies.

Momentum for the wind industry continues apace: Just last week, the federal government approved the first offshore development in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of central California.

“All indicators point to the federal government continuing to move other projects forward,” said Salustro, of the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

And there was a cultural breakthrough of sorts last month when a full-page color newspaper ad for Mass Mutual, the giant insurance company, showed a family frolicking on a beach with offshore wind turbines in clear view.

Battle for the hearts and minds of Delmarva

But that hasn’t quelled the skepticism in Ocean City and other pockets of the Delmarva Peninsula.

Town leaders have muted their opposition to the turbines for now, but they are still focused on certain battles.

In 2019, Ørsted went before the Maryland Public Service Commission, seeking approval to increase the size of its wind turbines and towers from 600 feet to about 800 feet. That produced a new surge of opposition in the town, with local officials asking the PSC to move the turbines more than 33 miles offshore. Political powerbroker Timothy F. Maloney, a former state legislator and one of Hogan’s closest friends, represented Ocean City in its efforts to fight the bigger turbines, even though he had never practiced utility law before. Nevertheless, the PSC last year approved the company’s application.

In the months ahead, US Wind will go through the same process to win approval for bigger turbines, which are becoming an industry standard — though a timetable isn’t altogether clear because the company has yet to select a turbine manufacturer.

“That would be the next step of engagement,” said Carozza, the state senator. “You’re talking about supersized turbines that are larger than the Statue of Liberty. These are the opportunities to re-engage and continue to have these issues possibly addressed.”

Carozza said local leaders are also watching to see whether the Vineyard Wind project is the target of lawsuits now that it has been approved by the federal government, suggesting that any legal action against that project could serve as a model for Maryland opponents.

David T. Stevenson, the director of the Center for Energy & the Environment at the Caesar Rodney Institute, a free-market think tank in Newark, Del., believes lawsuits against some of the wind projects on the Atlantic coast are inevitable now that BOEM has approved the Martha’s Vineyard proposal.

“It’s really closed the door on lobbying, on stakeholder conversations,” he said. “The only real option at this point is a legal challenge.”

Stevenson noted that BOEM in April temporarily pulled two proposed lease areas off the coast of Long Island, which were each about 15 miles from shore, from immediate consideration. The decision did not impact three other proposed lease areas in New York that were between 20 and 30 miles from shore.

“If it’s good enough for the Hamptons, it should be good enough for Delaware and Ocean City,” Stevenson said.

Another point of contention for both Maryland projects is where the cables that run from the wind farms and under the ocean floor will land and connect to the electric grid.

Ørsted had originally planned to land its cables and build a small substation at Fenwick Island State Park in Delaware, roughly a mile north of the Ocean City line. The company planned to sweeten the deal by promising to improve parking and athletic facilities at the park, but there was enough community opposition that the plan was scrapped and Ørsted has gone back to the drawing board. US Wind officials say they are considering a handful of options — currently all in Delaware — for bringing their cables ashore from MarWin.

Those arrangements, when announced, will have to get approvals from an array of state and local government agencies.

“I sometimes think it’s easier to list the agencies that are not involved” in the approval process, said Grybowski, the US Wind CEO.

The fishing industry is also eyeing the wind turbines warily, though supporters of offshore wind, including Trodson, the Block Island Chamber of Commerce chief, say wind farms  create unique deep sea reefs, which may be enticing to both commercial and recreational fishermen.

But Robert Newberry, chairman of the Delmarva Fisheries Association, is having none of it. He argues the wind farms will be detrimental to fish stocks and dangerous to all kinds of water craft.

“They’re saying this is going to be a great habitat for flounder and for sea bass,” said Newberry, a commercial fishing boat captain. “But there’s going to be major problems with those windmills. Once an accident happens, it’s game over. They’re saying [the turbines] have this great radar system. That’s going to look great when a million-dollar yacht smashes into one.”

Newberry also questioned whether the wind turbines would even deliver on their environmental promise, when fossil fuels would be needed to transport the turbines and construction materials by boat from Tradepoint Atlantic to the Delmarva Peninsula, to power the cranes that will erect the wind towers in the ocean, and for the boats that service the windmills.

Airplanes trailing banners advertising happy hours and all-you-can-eat specials are commonplace in Ocean City and Delaware. In recent years, summertime beachgoers have also been treated to airplanes flying over the ocean carrying messages opposed to the wind turbines. Those were frequently paid for by the Caesar Rodney Institute, the think tank that has been funded in part by the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing organizations with links to the Koch brothers political network.

This year, there aren’t any plans for an airborne anti-wind campaign. But Stevenson, the think tank’s energy director, said the center has sent mailings to 35,000 homes in Ocean City and Delaware that are within three miles of the Atlantic, surveying them about offshore wind energy. As of mid-April, Stevenson said, there were about 1,400 responses; 85% of the respondents in the unscientific poll said they were opposed to the wind energy projects because they were concerned about the beach economy, property values and beach employment.

But he realizes that opposition isn’t universal: “People are passionate in both directions.”

Even Ocean City business leaders aren’t unified.

At the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, “it’s a debate that we’ve stayed out of,” said Lachelle Scarlato, the executive director. US Wind and Ørsted, she points out, are chamber of commerce members.

Ryan James is one of the dissidents. The owner of Mother’s Cantina and Mother’s Tacos, two Tex-Mex restaurants in Ocean City, is an ardent environmentalist who recently completed a leadership training course with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. He’s placing solar panels on a commercial building he owns on 78th Street.

James says the ravages of sea-level rise and climate change are already evident throughout the town and region. Not only is that impacting property values, he said, but it’s impeding his ability to procure locally-sourced produce for his restaurants.

Coble, the Maryland LCV director, said rejecting the wind energy projects would increase the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, which would increase severe weather and sea level rise in Ocean City.

“There’s really only one metric of progress and that’s are we getting energy from renewable sources?” she said. “We just have to accelerate this whole process. It’s not as if it’s a new technology. It’s not as if it’s a controversial technology.”

James makes a similar appeal. He notes that many of his fellow Ocean City merchants and restaurateurs are active in local anti-littering and other environmental campaigns, and hopes they will soon see the long-term wisdom of embracing wind energy.

“The underlying argument in town is that people don’t want to see them,” James said of the turbines. “But there’s windmills all over the world. I don’t think people will be as opposed to them as they think they’ll be. Especially when they see them and think about what they’ll be doing to help their grandkids.”

Source: https://www.marylandmatters...

JUN 2 2021
back to top