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Hearing on Offshore Wind Farms Held in Ocean City, Maryland

Hearing on Offshore Wind Farms Held in Ocean City, Maryland

By Vince Conti

The panel at the congressional hearing in Ocean City, Maryland, on offshore wind farm development.
Herald Screenshot
The panel at the congressional hearing in Ocean City, Maryland, on offshore wind farm development.

Three congressmen and a panel of six witnesses participated in a congressional field hearing on the harmful effects of offshore wind industrialization in Ocean City, Maryland, on Saturday, Jan. 20.

The hearing was organized by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), who was joined by two New Jersey representatives, Jeff Van Drew (R-2) and Chris Smith (R-4). The same three individuals comprised the delegation at a similar field hearing held in Wildwood in March 2023. The district represented by Harris includes the entire Maryland Eastern Shore.

The hearing was held in reaction to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s release of a draft environmental impact study regarding the US Wind offshore wind farm development plan.

US Wind Inc. was founded in 2011 to support offshore wind farm development off the Maryland coast. The company is majority-owned by Renexia SpA, an Italian renewable energy development company. US Wind was awarded an 80,000-acre lease area off the shores of Delmarva.

The first phase of the US Wind lease area development is the MarWin wind farm, with a planned 22 turbines aimed at generating 300 megawatts of offshore wind energy starting in 2025. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is expected to release its final environmental impact study by the fourth quarter of this year, with construction to follow.

The hearing in Maryland followed the same model as the Wildwood hearing. One of the six witnesses, Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze LTD, a large producer of frozen seafood, appeared at both events.

The other witnesses were Patricia Schrawder, district representative for Maryland state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza; Travis Fisher, energy economist at the Cato Institute; Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association; Lisa Linowes, executive director of the Wind Action Group, and Robert Rand, an acoustics consultant with Rand Acoustics.

Following opening statements from the three congressmen, the panel spoke to issues of potential harm from the proposed wind farm development. The areas of concern included damage to the marine environment, harm to the population of sea mammals, reduction in the tourism industry, destruction of commercial fishing areas, air and sea navigation, military readiness, national security and the resilience of wind farms under circumstances of level 3 or greater Atlantic hurricanes.

One argument common to all the witnesses was the assertion that proper impact studies have not been done by any federal or state agencies because the policy directive has been to rapidly push through the necessary approvals for wind farm development. Smith said in his opening remarks that federal agency officials seem willing to deal with any negative effects from wind farms after the fact.

Panelists said the wind turbines are a danger to marine life and the environment in myriad ways.

Noise levels from the construction and operation of the turbines would be too loud and would be the ultimate cause for an increase of ship strikes due to disoriented whales, they said.

They argued that the commercial fishing industry cannot safely navigate the large expanse of planned wind farms, resulting in the loss of prime fishing areas and undermining the ability of the industry to maintain financial viability.

The testimony included the argument that navigation problems caused by the wind farms have an impact far beyond recreational and commercial vessels. Panelists said the farms pose a threat to military readiness.

The potential impact of visible wind farms on tourism was also a large concern.

Ocean City, Maryland, Mayor Rick Meehan also spoke at the event, saying that the impact on tourism could be devastating to the local economy. He said Ocean City, Maryland’s only municipality on the Atlantic Ocean, stood to lose its way of life as well as its economic engine. “We are a one-industry town,” Meehan said. “We depend on tourism.”

He added that Ocean City “will not back down.” If the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gives final approval, he vowed, “Ocean City will sue.” His comments received a standing ovation from the large audience that had crowded into the hearing room.

A major concern stressed by both Harris and Smith was the economic feasibility of the project. Both pointed to the fact that the Danish firm Orsted withdrew from its large lease area developments in 2023 due largely to changing financial demands.

Smith argued that the economic model for the wind farms was unsustainable without massive help from the taxpayer, who then would also have to bear the cost of expensive electricity as a ratepayer.

The hearing came just after US Wind presented the Delaware Association of Coastal Towns with a community benefits proposal that included annual payments over 20 years that equal roughly $2 million per town, starting when US Wind begins construction of MarWin.

The Delaware towns include Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and South Bethany.

The three congressmen made their ongoing opposition to Atlantic coast wind farm development clear.

Van Drew summarized the opposition when he said, “The more you find out, the more dangerous it is.”

The full hearing is available on YouTube, https://bit.ly/48K4hi6.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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