An Ocean City vacation carries multiple pleasures (and occasional misery), but let’s face it, with all due respect – ecotourism it ain’t.
But that, essentially, is the argument town officials have been making as they scramble to defeat two proposed offshore wind energy projects that are going through a long and complicated federal approval process.
Town officials – and their allies, who include U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R) – have been crying wolf about the ocean views that could be ruined by the dim silhouette of wind energy turbines miles off the coast.
Tourism revenues will be jeopardized, they warn. Property values will plummet! The Ocean City vacation experience will be irreparably damaged!
Look around Ocean City. Yes, there are pretty views (I’d argue that the bay views are nicer than the ocean views, especially at sunset). Yes, the beach is great.
But I repeat – look around Ocean City. The boardwalk, the carnival rides, the mini-golf, the bars and restaurants and crowds. The endless tape loop of surf shops, fast food joints, liquor stores and ice cream parlors. And did I mention the crowds?
While vacationers certainly enjoy the beach, and swimming, and boating, and fishing, and other outdoor activities, they do not come to Ocean City for a nature vacation. They come for the hustle and bustle, the Diane Arbus-y parade of humanity, the fries, the popcorn, the booze, the flesh, the carnival games, the neon necklace along the coastal highway.
Please do not tell me that any of this experience will be ruined by the presence of offshore wind turbines. Frankly, it’s preposterous and insulting.
The other night, I was standing outside a restaurant in West Ocean City. The lights across the bay were mesmerizing, especially on the Ferris wheel. It was nice to stand by the water. But this did not feel like a night in nature.
Yet the scare tactics persist.
Most days, visitors to Ocean City (and Delaware beaches just to the north) are greeted with an airplane flying a banner that cries, “Save Our Beach View.” It directs people to a website, saveourbeachview.com.
This website is run by the Caesar Rodney Institute, a right-wing think tank based in Dover, Del., “committed to protecting individual liberty.” So the plane is presumably paid for by the think tank as well. (Caesar Rodney, for you history buffs, was an 18th Century Delaware politician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.)
The last IRS disclosure forms filed online by the think tank cover the year 2016, and it’s impossible to tell where the funding comes from. No matter. The think tank does a lot of work in the energy space. And the rhetoric is clearly part of a political hit job – plain (or should we say plane?) and simple.
The wind turbine projects have been referenced at last twice during this week’s Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City. On Thursday, Jason M. Stanek, the chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, which approved both projects (before Stanek took over a year ago), said the wind turbines would help the state meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.
As for the threats of the viewshed being marred, Stanek, during a Power Point presentation, observed, “If you squint really close, you can see it.”
This is no wild-eyed environmentalist. Stanek is a veteran, wonky energy regulator, appointed by Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. to head the PSC. For years he worked for congressional Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
A day earlier, officials from Ørsted, a Danish power company that took over the Skipjack project last November, updated county leaders about their progress. The Ørsted turbines will actually be in Delaware waters, about 26 miles from the Ocean City pier.
Again and again, without ever saying so and while peppering the audience with technical details and throwing around jargon like NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) and RODA (the Responsible Offshore Developers Association – not Morgenstern), the company executives, construction manager Prem Pereira and community liaison Megan Otten, exuded some level of exasperation with their critics. They talked repeatedly about the turbines’ economic benefit to the Eastern Shore – and the entire state.
Reading between the lines, the two essentially suggested that wind energy foes are entitled to their opinions, but not to their own set of facts.
“All we can do right now is put out our information on the project,” Otten, who is based in Salisbury, said in an interview.
Here’s a bold prediction: If these offshore wind projects are ever built off the coast of Ocean City, they’ll provide an interesting, eye-catching visual, just as the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum shark, the mini-golf courses and the large Kohr’s ice cream cone do. And that’s if they’re visible at all.