Delaware tries to decide whether to invest in offshore wind

Wind turbines possible, either way

Date Published: 
Dec. 15, 2017

Offshore wind companies are already hoping to install wind turbines off the Delaware coast. Delaware just needs to decide if the state will participate in buying the energy or helping to build the system.

Atlantic lease area maps are courtesy of BOEM: Proposed winds farm areas on the East Coast.Atlantic lease area maps are courtesy of BOEM: Proposed winds farm areas on the East Coast.In the Atlantic Ocean, two companies purchased leases to offshore sites near Delaware. These sites are managed by the federal government, through the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM).

First, Deepwater Wind holds the Delaware lease, a triangular plot from about Rehoboth Beach to Fenwick Island. Through the Skipjack Wind Farm project, they would only develop the southern half of the lease area.

Also, U.S. Wind has purchased both Maryland lease areas, stacked along Ocean City and Assateague with a tip near Fenwick Island.

Skipjack would begin about 18 miles offshore. U.S. Wind is willing to begin about 17 miles offshore, although the lease area is much closer to land.

After the feds permitted companies to claim these offshore sites, Maryland stepped up as the first electric customer. In May, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved Deepwater Wind and US Wind to deliver a total of 368 megawatts to Maryland customers. So Maryland would be responsible for that clean energy, but also some investment.

Deepwater could do anything with the northern half of that Delaware lease. It could produce and sell electricity to Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or anyone else who wants to make a deal and offer renewable energy credits.

These aren’t cheap projects, and everyone has to decide: how much do the taxpayers and customers pay or benefit.

“Other companies are preparing proposals to build offshore wind projects up and down the East Coast. And states and the federal government have coordinated to designate areas [from North Carolina to Massachusetts]. We are talking about an industry that is being promoted up and down the East Coast,” said Tom Noyes of Delaware Division of Energy & Climate.

Delaware’s progress report

Atlantic lease area maps are courtesy of BOEM: Propsed wind farms in the Delaware/Maryland shore area.Atlantic lease area maps are courtesy of BOEM: Propsed wind farms in the Delaware/Maryland shore area.Once ahead of the game with wind energy plans that disintegrated in 2011, Delaware now trails Maryland.

This month, Delaware’s Offshore Wind Working Group was instructed to have written a final report by Dec. 15. But the governor will just have to make due with a progress report. This spring, the group was charged with investigating Delaware’s potential for using wind power and making recommendations to the General Assembly.

After about three hours of debate on Dec. 11, they basically agreed to continue investigating the options, realizing that they don’t know enough about the costs versus benefits to make an educated decision about anything.

So they’ll continue to study the range of options: making a major purchase of power; focus on small-scale purchases; wait for more wind proposals; or explore other renewable energy.

For each option, they’ll question the cost and benefits to ratepayers, taxpayers, the economy and overall society.

The group voted against recommending that Delaware immediately purchase from one of the two companies already off the coast.

Delaware is also talking to the feds to brainstorm better regional coordination of sites.

All Offshore Wind Working Group meetings are open to the public and can be listened to via speakerphone (details on meeting agendas). Briefing materials, all public comments and additional resources are posted online at www.de.gov/offshorewind.

For more information or to submit written comments, contact Tom Noyes, Division of Energy & Climate, by emailing Thomas.Noyes@state.de.us or calling (302) 735-3480.

Public feedback

In a continuous effort to get public perspective, the working group hosted two public meetings in Odessa and Lewes.

Around 100 people attended a Dec. 5 workshop in Lewes Public Library, prompting Tom Noyes to joke, “Nothing warms the heart more of a civil servant” than to see a full house of public engagement.

Delaware hasn’t decided which way to go, but they invited Deepwater and U.S. Winds to give some background and answer questions.

Anglers would still have access to the ocean near turbines. Asked about access for fishing boats, Stephanie Wilson of Deepwater Wind said, “we are not allowed to prevent access to the area,” except for some safety zone restrictions during construction.

Some people (including Wilmington high school students) said the state has an obligation to public health and future generations. Clean power would prevent asthma attacks, sick days, respiratory illness and hospital visits, said John Mateyko of Delaware Interfaith Power & Light. “Don’t delay. Act now and learn from doing,” said Mateyko, noting that greenhouse gas emission rates are still increasing.

Former State Rep. George Bunting worried about a different kind of environmental impact. Despite a wide shipping lane that would remain between lease sites, he hypothesized about a fuel spill if a ship collided with a wind turbine. He said Delaware is still paying for the clean energy experiments of Fisker Automotive and Bloom Energy.

Conversely, some people suggested that Delaware should focus solar power as a less expensive alternative to offshore construction.

Plus, wind energy is cleaner than burning coal, but it wouldn’t immediately shut down coal power plants. State Rep. Rich Collins (R-41) doubted that wind power will be able to heat or cool thousands of homes on the coldest or hottest of days.

A researcher at University of Delaware encouraged people to educate themselves, whether they support wind or not. Europe has already done much of the legwork to build a large offshore wind economy, Bonnie Ram said. This could help Delaware expand beyond a limited economy of agriculture and tourism.

“Scientists are right down the street [in Lewes], which is why I felt obligated to talk,” Ram added. “Many people have a lot of information … there’s some uncertainties, but there’s many, many answers.”

People expressed similar pros and cons at the northern meeting.

“I’m not sympathetic to people who say they don’t like to see the windmills to distort their view off of Rehoboth Beach,” said Charles Falletta. “There won’t be a Rehoboth Beach if we don’t start moving on it. And if you look at other countries in the world, they are way ahead of us.”

But people who love a clean horizon are passionate about an unobstructed view, including residents. There is debate about the bigger impact: wind turbines driving tourists away, or encouraging them to visit the shores or even boat to the site.

But as Ocean City Council lobbies to push wind turbines farther offshore and out of sightlines, wind power is in limbo at the federal level. In July, Maryland Congressman Andy Harris introduced an amendment to the annual appropriation that would prohibit federal funding for evaluations of wind projects less than 24 nautical miles from shore. At this point, the federal budget either needs to be settled or Harris could pull the amendment.