Ocean City crowd hears wind-power plans

Hundreds of people packed a hearing in Ocean City, Md., on Saturday, Jan. 18, regarding plans by two wind-power companies to increase the height of wind turbines proposed for off the coast of Maryland and Delaware to more than 800 feet.

The hearing was the result of Ocean City officials requesting that the Maryland Public Service Commission revisit proposals by wind-energy companies U.S. Wind and Orsted, in light of the height changes.

Most of the focus of the hearing was the U.S. Wind project, set to be built off the coast of Ocean City, but representatives of Orsted, which is proposing a wind farm off the coast of Maryland and Delaware, also gave a short presentation.

Maryland’s state legislature passed a bill in 2019 requiring 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Some of those who spoke in favor of the wind projects alluded to the impact they would have on achieving those goals.

Some pointed to jobs the projects would bring, including representatives of several trade unions.

Environmentalists who spoke during the hearing, which exceeded four hours in length, were divided between those who expressed concern over the impact of the turbines on wildlife and those who said they favored the move toward renewable energy because it would help lessen dependence on fossil fuels, thereby helping to reduce the impacts of climate change on the environment as a whole.

State Sen. Gerald R. Hocker Jr., one of the few Delawareans who spoke at the hearing, said he had not planned to speak but was asked to do so by Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. Hocker said Delawareans are currently most concerned about the Orsted project.

Hocker said that the meeting he and state Rep. Ronald Gray organized at Indian River High School in October regarding the Orsted project “was the largest hearing I’ve ever attended in my 18 years as a state legislator,” noting, though, that the meeting at the Ocean City Convention Center was “much larger.”

“Delaware is really more affected by the Orsted project than the state of Maryland,” Hocker said. “All of the turbines are off the Delaware shore, some of them much closer than 19 miles. We’re very concerned about that,” he said.

“The biggest concern of Delawareans right now is they’re bringing the transmission lines into a state park,” Hocker said. “Delawareans do not want that.” He said that, of nearly 1,000 emails he has received regarding Orsted’s offshore wind-farm project, known as Skipjack, “I could almost count on my hand those that are in favor of offshore wind.”

Hocker, along with local, county and state officials from Maryland who spoke, requested that the Maryland Public Service Commission reopen the hearing process due to the proposed change in the size of the turbines.

He asked that the PSC also specify where the transmission lines for the offshore wind projects can come in, “and if they’re a Maryland project, please have them come in in the state of Maryland.”

Jeremy Firestone, a professor at the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science & Policy countered the remarks of several speakers who cited a University of North Carolina study on potential impacts of wind farms on local economies.

Firestone said he has studied public perceptions of wind power since 2003, with heavy emphasis on “viewshed” — a term widely used at the hearing — and “sense of place” as it applies to wind farms.

He said one study involved a wind farm project off Block Island, R.I., which is smaller and closer to shore than either of the projects planned off the Maryland and Delaware coasts.

Of those surveyed in that study, Firestone said, 85 percent of Block Island residents favored the project. In contrast, in the UNC study, 83 percent of those surveyed said that a wind farm visible off the coast would negatively impact their vacationing and home-buying decisions.

But Firestone said the UNC study is an “outlier” among studies of public opinions about wind farms, and that the study used “extremely poor visuals” that made the wind farms much more visible from shore than they would be in reality.

“We have to be good consumers of science,” Firestone said. “We need to make science-based decisions.”

 

By Kerin Magill
Staff Reporter