Political winds are blowing hard this time of year off Ocean City.
In May, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved a $2.5 billion wind farm east of the Eastern Shore that would raise as many as 187 wind turbines, each more than 50 stories tall, 17 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.
But then last week, U.S. Representative Andy Harris, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore and parts of central Maryland, threw a wrench into the turbines. He introduced language into a federal appropriations bill that would block the U.S. Department of the Interior from spending any money evaluating the U.S. Wind Project.
Reflecting the position of the Ocean City government, Congressman Harris said that the windmills should be pushed at least another seven miles east into the ocean, so they would be invisible to vacationers on the boardwalk in the resort city.
“We want them to just site this out 24 nautical miles, around the curvature of the earth,” Harris said during a hearing on the bill. “The proposal in Virginia Beach, down the beach, is 27 miles. So it’s not that the technology is not possible. It’s just that they want to save money. They want to bring it in close, and that is bad for the economy. All this does is say, for this next fiscal year, they can’t get final approval, because this will bring them back to the table with Ocean City, Maryland. It’ll make them reduce the height a little bit. Or move (the turbines) further out, so that when you go to the ocean in Ocean City you are not looking at red blinking lights on the horizon.”
The project’s director, Paul Rich of U.S. Wind, said Harris’ legislation would effectively kill a project that would create thousands of jobs and eventually generate enough clean electricity to power a half million homes.
“We can’t go farther east,” Rich said. “Not only because of the boundaries of the lease area, but because of the shipping lanes that are mandated by the Coast Guard for safe maritime transit of cargo vessels into the Delaware River. So it is an actual barrier to us going any farther east.”
Although President Donald Trump – like Congressman Harris – has expressed skepticism about wind power, the offshore wind project has strong support from many Democrats, including Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. He represents an area of Baltimore County that includes the former Sparrows Point steel mill, which he says would rise again as the site of manufacturing for the huge steel bases for the wind turbines.
“The proposed wind farm off the coast of Ocean City has the potential to bring in at least 5,000 paying jobs to my district and raise $74 million in state tax revenue,” Ruppersberger said. “The manufacturing jobs will created near the old Bethlehem Steel mill, which shut its doors in 2012 after 100 years of operation.”
Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the opposition to the wind farm is part of a much bigger picture.
“Andy Harris has a long record of opposing renewable energy and denying climate change,” Tidwell said. “He is not trying to preserve the tourism industry in Ocean City or protect public health or any of the things he claims. Andy Harris’ goal is to shut down renewable energy.”
Ocean City is at greater risk than simply red blinking lights offshore to match the red tail lights of traffic on its main strip. If nothing is done about climate change, rising sea levels will drown the boardwalk and shut down Ocean City, permanently.