Federal government’s first hearing on offshore wind plan wins broad public approval
The federal government held its first public meeting Tuesday night on a proposed offshore wind farm in Ocean City, and while the proposal has been controversial in Maryland’s premier tourist town for years, a only person testified against.
The three-hour virtual scoping meeting, convened by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM), was the federal government’s first public hearing on US Wind’s plan to build up to 121 turbines that would generate enough electricity to power 285,000 homes from the wind. energy by 2026. The meeting was a first step in a federal environmental review process that is expected to take two years.
BOEM will hold two more virtual public hearings on US Wind’s plan over the next week and will accept written public comments through July 8.
But anyone expecting a controversy on Tuesday night would have been disappointed. A self-proclaimed ‘part-time Worcester County resident’, Jonathan Phillips, echoed the fears of some Ocean City elected officials and business leaders that windmills more than 11 miles from shore would cause ‘visual devastation irrevocable” for owners and tourists.
“That’s the equivalent of putting 77 60-story buildings off Ocean City,” Phillips said, urging federal officials to “save our sunrise” by insisting that turbines be pushed far enough out into the Atlantic so that ‘they are not seen from the shore.
More than 40 people signed up to testify electronically on the proposal, but between defections and technical difficulties, no more than half actually showed up. Besides Phillips, everyone who spoke touted the project’s environmental or economic benefits — or both.
“Getting these wind turbines online as quickly as possible will help us save lives and save the climate,” said Charles Stegman, a retired doctor representing the Wicomico Environmental Trust.
Eric Burnley, a freelance writer who lives on the east coast, put it even more clearly. “I really believe in alternative energy because the other alternative is extinction,” he said.
Union leaders in the building trades were among those who expressed their enthusiasm.
“These projects are very important to us on the east coast… I’m looking forward to working on some of this stuff,” said Nick Caruso, a Salisbury-based assistant sales officer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Room 24.
Even with the words of support, the approval process for both phases of US Wind’s project is long and tedious, as a company executive and federal officials explained in mind-numbing detail. But offshore wind projects have been the subject of debate at the state and federal levels for more than a dozen years, and wind turbines are slowly being permitted in federal Atlantic waters.
BOEM officials said they expect to complete a draft environmental impact statement by the end of summer 2023, and after seeking public comment on that document, they would aim to complete a final environmental impact statement by spring 2024. A “record of decision” would then be published in summer 2024.
But even without federal approval, US Wind is working to advance the project in several ways, setting up construction facilities at the Tradepoint Atlantic industrial development in Baltimore County and operations and maintenance centers on the Lower East Coast.
Brian Krevor, BOEM’s coordinator for the National Environmental Policy Act, said the agency is seeking public comments that recommend important issues for analysis as part of the environmental review; sources of information to be included in the review; data gaps that federal officials need to fill; and possible alternatives to constructing the project as proposed. He said the wide-ranging environmental study would include the project’s impact on commercial fishing, tourism and shoreline views: “It’s not just birds and whales.
The next public hearings are scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. and next Monday at 1 p.m. Registration for the virtual town hall meetings and detailed information about the wind power project, including how to comment, are available on the BOEM website.
This is the 10th review of the construction and operation of offshore wind energy initiated by the Department of the Interior since President Biden took office.
A second offshore wind company, Ørsted, has also secured leases from Maryland to build and operate offshore wind farms off Ocean City, and the company expects the federal approval process for those projects to begin. shortly.