Delaware begins discussion of off-shore wind

Maryland project would cross into waters off Fenwick Island

Date Published: 
Oct. 20, 2017

As the breeze turns cooler, Delaware officials are brainstorming how that very wind could benefit the state.

Maryland is striding forward with offshore wind power, causing shore residents to wonder how large a wind turbine could appear on the ocean’s horizon, both from Maryland’s beaches and across the line in the First State. Meanwhile, Delaware lawmakers are remembering the failed wind project that could have been up and running several years ago.

In August, Delaware Gov. John Carney gave the executive order to create an Offshore Wind Power Working Group, which will study how Delaware could develop offshore wind once again.

By Dec. 15, they will study how Delaware can participate in offshore wind energy; research economic and environmental benefits; and make recommendations for Delaware to move forward, including draft legislation.

“We must look for ways to participate in the development of alternative energy sources,” Carney stated. “It’s the right decision for our environment, but the development of new sources of energy is also good for our economy, and for the creation of good-paying jobs. This new working group will help us explore the potential economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind development for Delaware.”

The members of the group represent the state legislature, state agencies, the energy sector and other stakeholders.

The first meeting

The Offshore Wind Power Working Group convened on Oct. 6 in Dover to begin discussing the current situation and their mission.

They discussed potential tax breaks, federal regulations and investment costs. The financial impact must be fair to customers, too, they said. Leaders must balance the potential costs and savings that aren’t immediately evident. Could the wind turbines negatively impact tourism? Could the reduction in carbon emissions improve Delawareans’ health and the state’s environment?

Group members gave a brief background of Delaware’s once-proposed project, which began with Delmarva Power’s freezing of electricity rates. When they unfroze, costs skyrocketed. When the General Assembly instructed Delmarva Power to find a new electric supplier, Bluewater Wind envisioned building 150 wind turbines about 13 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach.

But NRG Energy acquired Bluewater and pulled the plug in 2011, when costs and tax breaks became more uncertain. (Deepwater Wind, which operates Skipjack, has since obtained the old Bluewater lease for the Delaware Wind Energy Area.)

Wind energy has been touted by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and co-sponsor of the U.S. Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act. He called the potential for U.S. energy independence “a win-win-win for our economy, our security, our health and our planet.”

“A lot of the proponents of offshore wind power have been touting its carbon-free benefits,” stated state Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th), who was appointed to Delaware’s working group. “That is a great attribute, but it alone cannot justify building an offshore wind farm.

“What I will be looking for as the group conducts its work over the next few months is the economic viability of offshore power. Can it produce power at rates that are competitive with other forms of generation?”

Project would put turbines 12-15 miles from Fenwick shore

In May, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved two offshore wind proposals by Deepwater Wind and U.S. Wind to deliver a total of 368 megawatts to Maryland customers. With those two potential projects in the works, the time is ripe for Delaware to piggyback on a neighboring project.

In a project located mostly in Maryland but straddling the line into waters off Fenwick Island, U.S. Wind has proposed 62 turbines about 12 to 15 miles offshore, creating 248 MW of power that would connect at the Indian River substation near Millsboro. It could be operational in 2020.

Slightly south, Skipjack has proposed 15 turbines about 17 to 21 miles offshore, creating 120 MW of power that would connect to an Ocean City, Md., substation. That field could be operational in late 2022.

Construction would cost a combined $2.1 billion.

Maryland officials have attached a variety of requirements to the projects, including direct job creation; use of Maryland ports; investments in a Maryland steel plant; opportunities for minority-owned businesses and investors; and contributions to the Maryland Offshore Wind Business Development Fund.

Meanwhile, Ocean City’s city council has pushed back against wind turbines being built quite so close to its shores, going so far as to hire lobbyist Bruce Bereano to help push the wind farms to a preferred distance of 23 miles offshore. The council supports green energy, they said, but they definitely do not want the turbines to be visible from shore. They’re afraid vacationers will reject a horizon that’s no longer clear.

The two companies have been encouraged to push the wind turbines farther from shore, but they also need to be able to make practical use of their full lease areas. Each additional mile of transmission line costs big money, too.

It’s possible that wind turbines would have no net impact on vacationers. In a recent Goucher Poll, 75 percent of Maryland residents said that seeing wind turbines on the horizon would make no difference in their decision to vacation in Ocean City. The 11 percent who said they were “less likely” to visit were balanced by the 12 percent who said they were “more likely” to visit.

Public transparency

The Delaware working group is working with as much transparency as possible, already listing about a dozen documents on their website and allowing people to listen to meetings live via telephone.

The group’s next public meeting will be Friday, Oct. 20, from 9 a.m. to noon at the DNREC Auditorium, Richardson and Robbins Building, 89 Kings Highway, Dover. To participate by phone, call 1-877-366-0711, using participant code 96520857#.

The meeting’s agenda includes discussion of Maryland projects, wind market reports, supply chain, job opportunities, Delaware’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards Act (REPSA) and more.

Public comments will also be posted online. They can be sent to Thomas.Noyes@state.de.us or the Division of Energy & Climate at (302) 735-3480.

All Delaware Offshore Wind Working Group information, data and more will be posted at http://dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov/energy-climate/renewable/offshore-wind-w.... Meeting schedules, agendas and minutes will also be posted on the state calendar at https://publicmeetings.delaware.gov.

With a fast-approaching deadline, the working group has also scheduled meetings for Nov. 1, Nov. 11 and Nov. 29. They also plan to host two public workshops.