Ocean City Today

Critics remain skeptical of offshore wind despite report

Assurances of economic opportunity not enough to sway audience, officials
By Brian Gilliland | Aug 24, 2017
Photo by: Brian Gilliland Anirban Basu

(Aug. 25, 2017) Economist Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore believes the concerns about offshore wind generation outweigh any harm the sight of wind turbines jutting above the horizon might do to the local economy. He also suspects that once the turbines being to turn, those fears and perceptions will dissipate.

Basu addressed reporters at the Ocean Pines Library last Friday at a press conference scheduled by AWB Engineers in Salisbury, through its membership in the Lower Shore Wind Consortium. The consortium is a federation of area economic development specialists, businesses and educators who are preparing for the wind energy market should it develop.

Commenting on a study his group conducted on behalf of US Wind, which has proposed an installation off the coast of Ocean City, Basu said if people are worried that offshore wind turbines will cause their properties to lose value, it might be a good time to make an offer. He said his study found no “statistically significant impact on property values.”

Because the country has so few wind farms off the coast, Basu said he studied data from domestic onshore wind emplacements and European countries with significant offshore wind power generation.

Basu said little data exists to support the belief that a decrease in tourism would occur because of offshore wind generation. On the contrary, the evidence suggested that it stimulated it, he said.

To reinforce that point, he said Atlantic City installed turbines on its wastewater treatment plant property with an unexpected result.

“One of the last places you want to be is at a wastewater treatment plant in New Jersey,” he said.

Nevertheless, his research suggested about 15,000 tourists traveled to the site to look at the turbines.

Amenities such as hotels and golf courses have much more impact on tourism than wind turbines, he said.

Finally, Basu said, offshore wind could be the “third leg” of the Worcester County economy — joining tourism and agriculture — that could bring a truly sustainable economic environment to the area.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he isn’t opposed to the economic development opportunities per se, but remains concerned that a negative impact is possible.

Virginia Beach, Meehan said, is developing a wind energy site 27 miles from the shore that should be invisible to both tourists and residents.

US Wind, meanwhile, is obligated to place its turbines as far east as possible in the leasing area. However, only a small portion of that leased area, purchased in 2014 for $8.7 million, could be used to develop the turbines. The current offer from US Wind is to place equipment about 17 miles offshore.

Paul Rich, project developer for US Wind, said the cost to move the site ends up being about $1 million per mile. Plus, transmission efficiency suffers with greater distance traveled.

Meehan said that cost is a drop in the bucket for what are expected to be projects costing more than $1 billion.

“We’re talking about 10 miles of property with 26,000 owners looking directly at it,” Meehan said.

If the turbines were less visible, Meehan said he wouldn’t be protesting the wind farms, he’d be touting the economic benefits.

“Why would we do anything that would cause us to play catch up,” Meehan asked. “We’ve only got one chance to do this, let’s do it right.”

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