Chris Perry Column: Silence Is Golden?

Chris Perry •

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One of Vineyard Wind's first GE Haliade-X turbines southwest of Nantucket. Photo by Kit Noble

Silence is golden? Clearly, Rick Meehan doesn’t think so.

Meehan is Ocean City, Maryland’s longest-sitting mayor, serving since 2006. Similar to Nantucket in many ways, Ocean City is a seaside, resort community with a year-round population of roughly 8,000 residents that balloons to over 325,000 during most busy summer weekends. In fact, the two resort communities share a famous name as Isaac Coffin built Ocean City’s first beachfront, rental cottage in 1869.

Today, Mayor Rick Meehan and his community struggle with many of the same issues that Nantucket is presently facing such as beach erosion, employment retention, infrastructure challenges, and chaotic summer seasons. And much like Nantucket, several international energy companies like Orsted have secured leasing rights to build offshore wind farms off Ocean City’s coast.

Sound familiar?

But, the similarities between the two vacation destinations abruptly end on the topic of the construction of wind turbines.

When US Wind offered a “community benefits package” - similar to Nantucket’s “Good Neighbor Agreement” with Vineyard Wind - to towns along the Delaware and Maryland coastlines, Mayor Meehan and Ocean City had a very different response than Nantucket’s leaders just a few years ago. Sounding more like Brig. General Anthony MacAuliffe outside of Bastogne during World War 2, Mayor Meehan found the idea: “Unconscionable.”

“Ocean City cannot be bought. We intend to continue to do what is necessary to protect the interests of our residents, property owners, and future generations,” Meehan said.

The mayor continued: “US Wind offered packages to neighboring Delaware communities that promised benefits in exchange for local government officials refraining from making any negative comments or objections about proposed wind farm projects and this was the same package offered to Ocean City. We do not support any turbines built off our coast”.

Sounds a lot like MacAuliffe’s defiant “Nuts” to me.

US Wind holds the lease for an 80,000-acre parcel off Ocean City’s beaches. It is part of Maryland’s offshore wind project which has secured offshore renewable energy certificates from the State of Maryland. Meehan and Ocean City have opposed the construction of any turbines and many have argued that their efforts have had some success as Orsted recently withdrew from the Maryland Public Service Commission and also repositioned its 1000 MW Skipjack Wind project.

Mayor Meehan’s opposition to the wind farms has not wavered. Moreover, Ocean City continues to publicly express its concerns about the negative effects on marine life, birds, navigation, fishing, the viewshed, and their economy, even as late as January 2024 despite heavy pressure from the state and feds including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

So while Mayor Meehan and Ocean City continue to protectively circle their wagons, why did Nantucket cave?

The Nantucket community has been told that the Vineyard Wind project was a fait accompli, and the federal government was moving forward in federal waters regardless of Nantucket’s position.

That may be true but apparently, Meehan and Ocean City did not get that memo because they continue to live to fight another day fully aware of the fact that they are potentially leaving millions of dollars on the table.

In our case, the federal government has acknowledged that the wind farms will have a negative impact on Nantucket’s historic viewshed. Knowing that and with Nantucket holding the highest level of protection afforded by the U.S. as a designated National Historic Landmark, the Select Board still unanimously signed the Good Neighbor Agreement in 2020.

Additionally, the federal government admitted that the wind farms will have an adverse effect on Maria Mitchell Association’s astronomical activities and an adverse effect on the Nantucket Preservation Trust’s historical properties. Yet, both organizations signed the original Good Neighbor Agreement.

Now, with additional leases off Nantucket under review and more Good Neighbor Agreements on the horizon, it’s worth considering why Nantucket agreed to the original Good Neighbor Agreement. And if it’s so good, why won’t our town officials and specific island organizations publicly discuss the matter?

For a community like Nantucket, that fashions itself on the ability to debate controversial topics, why would publicly commenting and/or debating the Good Neighbor Agreement, which was sold as a win-win for Nantucket, be off limits today?

The printed propaganda via the town’s website does the Nantucket community a disservice. For example, when the parties opted to negotiate directly with Vineyard Wind, it is misleading to champion that they were able to secure “significant design changes” and “eliminated turbines in the front row” when you realize that the newly designed height of some of the relocated turbines went from 450 to 950 feet tall.

The aura surrounding the fact that members serving on Nantucket’s Offshore Wind Community Fund Committee are required to sign confidentiality agreements makes you wonder if Pearson, Specter & Litt from Suits are calling the shots.

In your wildest dreams, can you picture former Select Board members and community leaders such as Bernie Grossman, Bud Clute, Nancy Sevrens Bobby DeCosta, Flint Ranney, Wayne Holmes, Jack Gardner, or Bruce Watts ever agreeing to sign an agreement that would muzzle their ability to publicly express their concerns about something that directly impacts Nantucket for generations to come?

I think not.

A sad by-product of this discussion is the misconception that if you oppose the Good Neighbor Agreement you oppose clean energy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Who doesn’t love clean energy? As Jerry Seinfeld famously asked: “Who doesn’t love a pony….”

I like both, and of course, everyone wants to see Nantucket have access to clean / green energy. But at the risk of muzzling our town leaders and being forced to tow the party line in the Good Neighbor Agreement, I am not interested unless the discussion starts and ends with moving turbines outside of Nantucket’s viewshed.

Clearly, energy is a crucial part of our lives. However, the long-term financial viability of offshore wind farms is in question as the federal government chases unaffordable and unachievable targets with communities like Nantucket silently following along. I suspect that we will finally hear from the Nantucket Offshore Wind Community Fund Committee in a couple of months when they announce the first round of grant winners via a press release to coincide with the re-emergence of Nantucket’s summer population. But taking advantage of a PR opportunity is a far cry from an honest discussion.

In my opinion, Nantucket’s financial gains will be short-lived, and the payoffs - excuse me - payouts will fade away with little recourse available to the Nantucket community. You can see the handwriting on the wall as international energy giants such as BP, Shell, Orsted from Denmark, Equinox from Norway, Iberdrola from Spain, EDP from Portugal, and state-owned EDF from France attempt to pull out of existing agreements because of growing opposition and the fact their investments simply do not justify the return. Despite massive subsidies, once the investment dollars dry up, the political clout to support the politically correct will disappear; and with that, any long-term financial obligations due Nantucket will be a potential target too.

Was it worth it?

I don’t think so.

In addition to the negative effects on marine life, our economy, our viewshed, and indirectly on the inevitable necessity of a third electric cable to Nantucket, we will be left with aging platforms scarring our pristine horizon. It will haunt us every time we go swimming at Fisherman’s Beach or fish off the Point of Breakers; and along the way, the Nantucket ratepayers will be crushed by the inevitable increases to our electric bills to cover skyrocketing production costs.

Privately, there’s hope as a handful of town leaders are quietly expressing their concerns over Nantucket’s participation in the Good Neighbor Agreement. However, putting their views on record is difficult in the present political climate.

But have no fear, it’s only a matter of time.

As Paul Harvey used to say, eventually we will hear “the rest of the story…” And while we are waiting for our leaders to show some courage, it is clear that both Mayor Meehan and Isaac Coffin have better views.

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