It’s a hot-button issue on Delmarva that could soon impact locals and tourists alike.
What is offshore wind?
Before taking a side on this issue, it’s important to understand the basics of what offshore wind even is. The definition of offshore wind power is in its very name–it’s the use of wind farms constructed on the ocean’s continental shelf (and sometimes lakes and fords) to generate electricity from wind, which is stronger over seas than it is over land.
What’s its relationship to Ocean City?
The topic has been coming up a lot recently, and that’s because there’s a strong possibility that two offshore wind farms will soon be constructed off the coast of OC.
In May, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved subsidies for the two farms that would be the largest in the country to date. These farms, managed by U.S. Wind and Skipjack Offshore Energy, would include 41+ U.S. Wind turbines located at least 17 miles from the shore and 15 Skipjack turbines at least 19.5 miles from the shore.
What does offshore wind mean for us, and why is this issue so controversial?
First, some of the benefits of offshore wind: environmentally, wind farms produce renewable energy (no fossil fuels!). That means reduced air pollution and reduced greenhouse gases, and the prevention of hundreds of thousands of carbon dioxide emissions entering the atmosphere.
There are also economic benefits: it’s estimated that these two wind farms would create 5,000 local jobs and about $74 million in state tax revenue. In a statement, Maryland Public Service Commissioner Michael T. Richard highlighted the farms’ potential to make positive impacts on the environment and the economy:
This decision creates tremendous opportunities for Maryland. It enables us to meet our clean, renewable energy goals using energy generated within the state while conditioning our approval on holding project developers to their promises of creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
However, while many Ocean City locals and politicians have supported the proposals for offshore wind, there have been others who aren’t as thrilled about the project.
According to U.S. Wind project manager Paul Rich, when the project was initially discussed seven years ago between the developers, the federal government and the Town of Ocean City, the Town was most concerned with having the turbines at least 10 miles away from the shore. More recently, at the Town’s request, U.S. Wind agreed to move their turbines “as far back as we possibly can,” 17 miles from the shore.
A few weeks ago, one of the project’s biggest opposers, Congressman Andy Harris, got an amendment passed that could end up terminating the projects altogether. The amendment prohibits the use of federal funding to conduct reviews of site assessments or construction and operation plans for turbines less than 24 miles from the shore.
This amendment was adopted mostly due to concerns regarding the turbines being a potential eyesore. Because a sizable portion of the Town’s revenue comes from tourism, and it’s unknown whether a view of the turbines could impact the economic sectors of tourism and real estate, Harris and other officials are concerned that the turbines would result in losing such revenue.
And while they would bring in state revenue, it’s estimated that the projects would cost about $2 billion in total, and that the typical utility customer would see a 1.4% increase in their bill, an extra $1.40 per month on average.
In light of the recent amendment passed, the projects are currently on hold, likely unless or until the amendment is reversed.
Do turbines really impact tourism?
Well, maybe. Right now, most offshore wind farms are located off the coasts of European countries, and there are only two in the United States (a floating wind turbine in Maine and a commercial farm in Rhode Island).
We know little about how these wind farms will impact tourism in the U.S., but there have been recent studies conducted that might give us an idea. For example, one study conducted by economists at North Carolina State University concluded that nearshore wind farms would have a negative effect on state tourism–but that mostly applies when the turbines are eight miles away from the shore or closer. In a working paper on the study, NCSU’s Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy director Laura Taylor said:
There was a lot of support for wind energy, but no one was willing to pay more to see wind turbines from the beach by their vacation rental property. And if turbines are built close to shore, most people said they would choose a different vacation location where they wouldn’t have to see turbines.
However, the good news is that our results also show that if turbines are built further than eight miles from shore, the visual impacts diminish substantially for many survey respondents and it is unlikely the turbines would negatively impact coastal vacation property markets.
In one Danish beach town, resort owners are actually turning the nearby wind farm into a tourist attraction. Anne Marie Larsen, who owns a resort in Nysted, Denmark that offers offshore wind safaris, told Offshore Wind.biz:
We have seen a huge demand on our safari tours that combine seal safari with a visit to the offshore wind turbines. During summer, we have two departures every day which are fully booked.
Harbor master Sven Erik Hauberg echoed Larsen’s positive outlook on the wind farms.
On safari trips to the Rødsand 1, a boat can enter between the turbines and that is something that really impresses tourists. Also, our wind museum is well attended by both school groups and various bus tours, and we also get some foreign visitors, especially from Asian countries.
Again, whether the wind farms would have a positive, negative or nonexistent impact on Ocean City tourism can’t be totally known unless they’re built. Right now, we can only look at studies that have been conducted and the impact of wind farms on other countries, and make an educated guess. Here is a good place to start researching.