Harris Joins Turbine Site Location Fray
Local government’s fight to keep wind turbines out of sight of vacationers in Ocean City picked up support this week from Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st).
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment proposed by Harris for the Interior Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018.
Harris’ proposition would prohibit the use of federal funding for reviewing site assessments or construction and operations plans for wind turbines located less than 24 nautical miles from Maryland shorelines.
On May 11 the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) elected to permit two wind farm projects to proceed off the coast from Ocean City.
Deepwater Wind hopes to have its Skipjack Wind Farm, located offshore between Maryland and Delaware, operational by 2023. Deepwater developed and operates the first working offshore wind turbine in the U.S., near Block Island, south of Rhode Island and east of Long Island.
“I was disappointed that the developers really don’t appear to care whether or not these windmills are visible from the shore and what that effect would have on local real estate and the tourism industry,” Harris said.
The congressman said the tourism industry is one of the primary economic engines driving commerce on the lower shore.
“Studies have shown pretty clearly that ruining the view-scape with wind turbines would be detrimental,” he said.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan spoke with Harris on Wednesday concerning the effort to locate the wind farms farther out to sea.
“I believe [Harris] supports Ocean City’s position that we are not in opposition to the wind farms, we just don’t want to see them off our coast,” he said.
Meehan said the town recognizes that the projects will promote economic growth for numerous Maryland jurisdictions.
“We really would like to work with both companies, and with other jurisdictions, to support them in their efforts to move the windmills back beyond that 24, 25, 26-mile limit from the shoreline in Ocean City,” he said.
Harris also questioned the conclusion reached by the PSC that wind farms will have a positive impact on the local economy.
“If you look at the people’s counsel opinion on the Public Service Commission decision … they dwell on the fact that the economic impact has not been properly evaluated,” he said. “I think they discounted the negative economic impact on Ocean City.”
Harris also expressed concern about a possible increase in his constituents’ electricity rates.
“It will have a negative economic impact for every Maryland family because every … family is going to have to pay more on their monthly electric,” he said.
In addition to the negative effect on tourism, Meehan cited other drawbacks.
“If they’re built as proposed, I believe they will have a detrimental impact, not just on tourism, but on property values,” he said. “We have 26,000 property owners in Ocean City.”
With a congressional recess scheduled for August, Harris is not anticipating a final action on his amendment until later this year.
“This gives the developers several months to get together [and] reformulate the plan that is acceptable to Ocean City,” he said. “I’m hoping that everyone can come to an agreement by then so that I can withdraw the need for this amendment to remain in the final bill.”
Meehan also hopes an amicable arrangement can be reached.
“We only get one chance to get this right and I think our goal is to all work together … so that it’s right for Ocean City and it’s also right for business development that other jurisdictions see from this project,” he said. “Hopefully, we can come to what would be a win-win situation for everybody.”