Issues to Watch

Maryland Offshore Wind Farms: Concerns of Ocean City, Maryland’s Tourism, and the Fishing Industry


*Curtis Snyder

Under Maryland law, a “qualified offshore wind project” is permitted to be located in an area between ten and thirty miles off the coast of Maryland.  Md. Code Ann., Pub. Util. § 7-701(k)(1)(ii) (West 2017).  A qualified offshore wind project is defined as a wind turbine generation facility, which functions to produce renewable energy from ocean winds off the coast.  Md. Code Ann., Pub. Util. § 7-701(k) (West 2017); About Deepwater Wind, Deepwater Wind, http://dwwind.com/about/ (last visited Oct. 25, 2018).   In 2017, Deepwater Wind and U.S. Wind received approval to construct two qualified offshore wind projects off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.  Jeremy Cox, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris Calls for Delay of Maryland Offshore Wind Projects for More Studies, Delmarva Now (May 30, 2018, 6:29 AM), https://www.delmarvanow.com/story/news/2018/05/30/andy-harris-calls-more-offshore-wind-development-studies-maryland/627226002/ [hereinafter Cox, Calls for Delay].  Deepwater Wind and U.S. Wind’s construction plans reveal the possibility of forty-seven turbines being built in two separate federal leases off the coast of Ocean City.  Id.

I.  Tourism Concerns

The approved offshore wind projects have led to an escalating debate from Ocean City’s Town Council after the diagram revealed that the turbines would be visible from the shoreline.  Sara Swann, Why the Fishing Industry is Against Offshore Wind Farms Near Ocean City, Delmarva Now (July 20, 2018, 12:41 PM), https://www.delmarvanow.com/story/news/2018/07/20/offshore-wind-farm-alternative-green-energy-ocean-city-maryland/792786002/ [hereinafter Cox, Fishing Industry is Against Offshore Wind Farms].  In February 2018, Ocean City’s Town Council passed a resolution registering its opposition to the offshore wind turbines’ visibility from the shoreline.  Jeremy Cox, Ocean City Loses Bid to Push Back Offshore Wind Developments, Delmarva Now (Mar. 13, 2018, 11:13 AM), https://www.delmarvanow.com/story/news/2018/03/12/ocean-city-loses-bid-push-back-offshore-wind-developments/416541002/ [hereinafter Cox, Ocean City Loses Bid].  Town officials and industry representatives stated that the visibility of the offshore wind turbines has the potential to deter tourists from visiting Ocean City.  Id.  Under pressure from Ocean City’s Town Council, U.S. Wind agreed to construct the wind turbines seventeen miles off the coast instead of the previously-planned location twelve miles off the coast.  Id.  

Additionally, a state Senate Bill was proposed in March 2018 to change the distance requirements from between ten and thirty miles off the coast to not less than twenty-six nautical miles off the coast.  S. 1058, 2018 Leg., 438th Sess. (Md. 2018).  However, the Bill was unsuccessful.  Cox, Calls for Delay, supra.  If U.S. Wind seeks to raise the turbines from six megawatts to eight megawatts, Ocean City officials will be provided with another opportunity to persuade commission members to change the distance requirements.  Cox, Ocean City Loses Bid, supra.

II.  Fishing Industry Concerns

During an Ocean City’s Town Council meeting on August 20, 2018, representatives from the fishing industry voiced their concerns over possible negative impacts the offshore wind projects could create.  Swann, supra.  One of the fishing industry’s concerns is that the wind turbines will force the fish to leave the area, causing revenues from the fishing industry to suffer.  Id.  Andy Read (“Read”), Chair of the Marine Sciences & Conservation Division at Duke University, stated that the construction of the wind turbines would likely result in fish leaving the area temporarily.  Id.  Arthur Popper (“Popper”), a University of Maryland biologist, agreed that the fish would leave during the construction but return once the noise from construction had ceased.  Cox, Calls for Delay, supra.  However, Popper expressed concerns with the effects of the sounds and shadows produced by the wind turbines once the turbines are operational.  Id.  Popper further stated that few studies had been conducted to examine how fish respond to noise disturbances and that most of the existing studies dealt with the effects of seismic testing and only concerned particular species of fish.  Id.

Another concern introduced by representatives of the fishing industry was the change in the marine environment the wind turbines will cause.  Swann, supra.  Read stated that the wind turbines would act as an artificial reef that fish tend to like.  Id.  Further, Read referenced the abundance of fish around light towers in North Carolina that provide charter boats with the opportunity to take clients fishing for a variety of desirable fish species.  Id.  However, Megan Lapp (“Lapp”), a fishing liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., claimed that her findings do not align with Read’s because fish prefer sand bottom environments to reef bottom environments.  Id.

Lapp further expressed concern regarding the sound produced by operating wind turbines, as the noise could potentially affect animals that use sonar navigation.  Id.  This would include animals such as whales that navigate by producing sound bursts that bounce off of surrounding objects.  Id.  Lapp believes that the sound emitted by the wind turbines could potentially confuse these animals or even injure them in collisions.  Swann, supra.  However, Read stated that the outcome introduced by Lapp is unlikely as the wind turbine sound is so minimal that it will not interfere with the “very intense sound bursts” that whales produce.  Id.

Congressman Andy Harris (“Harris”) is sponsoring legislation in an attempt to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to research the potential consequences of the project.  Cox, Calls for Delay, supra.  In May of 2018, the House Committee “approved Congressman Andy Harris’ amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill to study the impact of offshore wind.”  Id.  Harris initiated the idea for the study when the commercial fishing industry came to him with concerns over the potential impact that the projects could have on the industry, as well as marine mammals and fish.  Offshore Wind Study to be Conducted, House.gov (May 28, 2018), https://harris.house.gov/media/in-the-news/offshore-wind-study-be-conducted.  Harris stated that the more information that is available, the better, and that further studies should be conducted before constructing a project of this magnitude, which potentially could put marine life in danger.  Id.  Harris expects that the study by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration will take about two years before the results are reported back to Congress.  Id.

Deepwater Wind claims to have adopted a “first-of-its-kind procedure designed to prevent impacts to commercial fishing gear from offshore wind energy activities.”  Deepwater Wind Outlines Industry-Leading Approach to Prevent Damage to Fishing Gear at its Offshore Wind Farms, Deepwater Wind (July 12, 2018), http://dwwind.com/press/deepwater-wind-outlines-industry-leading-approach-prevent-damage-fishing-gear-offshore-wind-farms/.  This procedure is keeping commercial fisherman informed by providing frequent updates on offshore activities to fisherman through a team of representatives based in regional ports and Deepwater Wind fisheries liaisons.  Id.  Additionally, Deepwater Wind has a process for gear-loss/damage claims in case such incidents occur.  Id.

III.  Conclusion

Maryland’s legislature is currently left with the task of deciding whether to delay construction or move forward with the projects despite the potential negative impact.  See Offshore Wind Study to Be Conducted, supra.  With the threat of irreparable harm to Ocean City’s tourism and fishing industries, further study on the effect of the approved offshore wind projects should be conducted before construction begins.  Once the wind turbines have been constructed, the ability to move or even remove an operation of this magnitude will be extremely cumbersome and difficult.  See Cox, Calls for Delay, supra.

*Curtis Snyder is a second-year day student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he is a staff editor for Law Review.  Curtis is also a member of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society.

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