As state and federal regulators weigh the fate of two proposed wind energy installations off the coast of Ocean City, a recent poll conducted for one of the wind developers found widespread support for the project — even in and around Ocean City, where politicians and business leaders have intensified their opposition in recent months.
In the poll, a vast majority of respondents who vacation in Ocean City said the faint presence of giant wind turbines 19 miles offshore would not impact their desire to visit the resort town. And most owners of beachfront homes or condos said they weren’t worried about property values diminishing.
The poll of 600 registered voters was taken Feb. 11-17 by Bellwether Research and Consulting, an Alexandria, Va.-based firm with a wide variety of clients, including Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). It was paid for by Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, developer of the proposed Skipjack project off the coast of Ocean City, and had a 4-point margin of error.
The poll also surveyed 258 Worcester County voters. That segment of the survey carried a 6-point error margin.
The survey is being released as the Maryland Public Service Commission, which has approved two wind projects off the coast of Ocean City, considers the developers’ request to use bigger turbines than they had originally requested. The companies say the bigger turbines reflect changes in the technology and would enable them to operate state-of-the-art facilities.
Town officials have become more vocal in their opposition to the projects in recent years. The town government hired Bruce C. Bereano, a powerful figure in Annapolis and an ally of Hogan’s, to represent them in the State House. And to represent them before the PSC as they challenge the energy companies’ bids to build bigger turbines, town officials have hired Timothy F. Maloney, a former state legislator and close friend of Hogan’s.
Even if the PSC OK’s the bigger installations, the projects must still win approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior, a process that could take years.
But despite the vocal opposition of certain Ocean City leaders, the poll showed broad support for the Skipjack project throughout the state — and even in Worcester County.
The poll began by asking voters what they felt the most important issue facing Maryland was: 14% answered crime and safety, 10% replied education/public schools, 9% answered taxes/fees, and another 9% said health care/prescription drug costs (the survey was taken before there was much public attention on the coronavirus).
The poll then asked voters to think about sources of electricity. Asked which sources they most favored expanding — wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas, coal or hydropower — 83% answered solar and 79% answered wind.
And asked whether they had “heard anything recently” about wind projects in Maryland, only 24% of voters answered affirmatively. Among those who answered yes, 47% said they heard that there was a plan to put windmills offshore, while 12% said they heard the project was the source of controversy.
Asked for their opinion on the plan to generate electricity with offshore wind in Maryland, 73% said they favored the idea and 14% opposed it.
The next poll question was designed to gauge voters’ views of the Skipjack proposal and was asked this way: “There is currently just one offshore wind farm operating in the U.S. which has five turbines and is off the coast of Block Island, R.I. A handful are planned in the next several years,
including one with 15 wind turbines over 19 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. Would you favor or oppose this?” Seventy-two percent said they would support it, while 15% opposed it.
Opponents cited a variety of reasons for their skepticism: 15% said wind is not an efficient or sustainable source of energy; 13% said the turbines will hurt the environment; 11% said the project would not be cost effective; while 10% said it would have a negative effect on tourism or ruin the view.
Next, pollsters asked voters for their opinion of the proposal if wind turbines would only be faintly or barely visible from the shore. When the word “faintly” was employed, 74% said they favored the proposal. When the word “barely” was used, 72% were in favor.
Almost two-thirds of poll respondents — 62% — said they go to Ocean City for vacation or a trip to the beach. Asked if they would still visit the beach town if there were wind turbines off the coast, 86% said yes. Asked if tourism in Ocean City “would stay the same, increase, or decrease if there were wind turbines 19 miles off the coast,” 67% said stay the same, 11% said increase, and 14% said decrease. Eight percent did not know.
Six percent of poll respondents said they owned beachfront property in Ocean City. Asked whether they thought the wind turbines would have a positive or negative impact on their property, 61% said positive, 11% said negative, and 25% said no impact.
Sixty-seven percent suggested the turbines could have a positive impact on their own economic situation, while 72% predicted that the project would have a positive impact on the Ocean City economy.
The pollsters then asked a series of other questions related to the Ørsted wind energy project and found that voters were enthusiastic about several aspects of the proposal — its role in helping Maryland achieve its clean energy goals, its potential to create 1,400 jobs, the fact that it would create an artificial reef near the turbines, and the possibility of attracting tourists in Ocean City who would be interesting in taking boats out to look at the installation.
Fifty-percent of the poll respondents said they cared “a great deal” about climate change, while 30% said they cared some about the issue. Ten percent said they didn’t care much about climate change, while 7% said they did not care about climate change at all.
Perhaps most important to political leaders, the voters were asked whether opposition to the wind turbines would make them more or less likely to vote for a candidate. Eleven percent replied “much more likely,” 11% said somewhat more likely, 25% said somewhat less likely, and 37% said much less likely.
Sixteen percent said they did not know.