Over a year ago, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved the leases for two wind farms off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland—a resort town and commercial fishing mecca. The commission approved 62 turbines at least 14 miles off the coast of Ocean City to be developed by U.S. Wind—a $1.4 billion project—and a 15-turbine, $720 million project by Skipjack Offshore Wind LLC to be situated north of the U.S. Wind project.
Since then, Ocean City officials have fought to have the massive turbines sited at least 26 miles offshore—a distance not visible from the shoreline. The Ocean City officials want to protect tourism, property values, and commercial fishing rights. After a recent presentation from a noted expert on the impacts of wind farms on commercial fishing, the mayor and council decided to strengthen their opposition to the wind farms. The council voted unanimously to explore ways to prevent the high-voltage electric cable that would connect the offshore wind farms to the power grid on land from coming ashore in the resort.
The presentation included information about the location of the existing and proposed wind farms in relation to the established commercial and recreational fishing grounds. Because the proposed location of the wind turbines is in close proximity to the shipping lanes for oil tankers and other cargo ships, the wind farms can be dangerous. It can be difficult to differentiate between a wind turbine, another vessel, or a super-tanker in the area because the electro-magnetic activity produced by the wind farms snarls radar and creates hazards for vessel traffic.
The wind farms also pose dangers to sport fishing such as the White Marlin Open—a tournament held in Ocean City each August. The 2017 tournament consisted of 359 vessels and 3,000 contestants. If the wind farms are constructed, the participating fishing vessels would have to go through the wind farms to get to the canyons.
The Wind Farms Still Need Federal Approval
While the Maryland Public Service Commission approved the leases for the two Wind Energy Areas off the Ocean City coast, the developers still need to clear several federal regulatory hurdles. Federal regulations require the decision-makers to consider impacts on existing industries. If the impact on commercial fishing can be proven, the Secretary of the Interior has a duty not to approve the leases. The local commercial fishermen feel the proposed wind farm projects are being ram-rodded through without strong, empirical evidence of the potential impacts on their industry. They believe studies should be undertaken and that the process should be slowed down so that all potential impacts can be explored and vetted thoroughly.
Another issue is that the high-voltage cable from the wind farms will need to come ashore into a residential areas to connect to the power grid. Running the cable into town is an industrial use, which may require a zoning or an ordinance change.
Europe, particularly Denmark and Germany, has invested in offshore wind and the developers have indicated that there is no impact on commercial and recreational fishing. However, the presentation that the Ocean City officials received indicated that the dynamics are different in those areas in Europe with established offshore wind farms, which are located in the North Sea where recreational fishing is not hospitable and vastly different from the environment in Ocean City.
Commercial fishing has been an industry in America for 400 years, while wind turbines last for just 20 years or so. It is important to keep these industries in perspective when considering whether to invest in offshore wind farms.