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Fight over offshore wind brews as projects advance

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Orsted has already developed the small Block Island Wind Farm seen here, but it has plans for larger projects near Delaware. One advocacy group is warily watching the advancement of offshore wind in the U.S. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ORSTED

FENWICK ISLAND — Offshore wind farms were already a fairly polarizing issue before this year, but it may get even hotter now that Maryland has approved new larger projects.

Ørsted received Maryland state approval in December for its second wind farm in the Delaware-Maryland waters. Skipjack Wind 2 is more than five times larger than the first proposed wind farm that raised considerable criticism from coastal Delaware communities, who say the wind turbines would disturb their oceanfront view, bird migrations and ocean ecosystems. Other than pushing back against where the project’s transmission lines come ashore, however, Delaware doesn’t have recourse to stop the projects.

Ørsted, a Danish multinational green energy company, is benefitting from Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019, which created more subsidies for renewable energy and tasked the state to facilitate at least 1,200 megawatts in “round two” offshore wind projects. The law set Maryland’s renewable energy goals of 50% or more by 2030.

As part of its dealings there, Ørsted has committed to building cable and turbine manufacturing plants, and maintenance facilities in Maryland.

Although Delaware is also seeking to increase renewable energy production, it still doesn’t have the momentum of other Atlantic Coast states on offshore wind due in part to local opposition. A new legal effort by the Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI), a libertarian think tank based in Newark, may further slow or stop offshore wind projects.

CRI has spearheaded the formation of the American Coalition for Ocean Protection, a new national coalition of Atlantic Coast groups with concerns about the development of offshore wind farms. In August, ACOP backed a Massachusetts group in a federal lawsuit against a wind farm developer near Martha’s Vineyard – arguments haven’t yet begun in the case.

Dave Stevenson | PHOTO COURTESY OF CRI

Dave Stevenson, the CRI director on energy policy, noted that it was the nonprofit’s work in Fenwick Island, where it funded a mailing campaign to 35,000 residents within 3 miles of the proposed Ørsted interconnection site to raise public opposition, that gave them a national roadmap.

“I saw how effective that was,” Stevenson told Delaware Business Times last year, noting that polling showed how the campaign helped to essentially flip support to opposition on the project.

(Ørsted disputes that claim, pointing to a commissioned January 2020 survey of Sussex Countians and Delawareans that found both had majorities in favor of the latest Skipjack proposal. Only 17% of Sussex respondents believed tourism would be hurt by the project.)

After Ørsted delayed the completion of Skipjack 1 to 2026, Stevenson began examining other projects in the federal pipeline and connecting with community groups around the country who shared similar concerns about offshore wind farms.

“I’ve been talking to folks in Ocean City, Md., for years, but I decided I had better start talking to folks around the country,” he said. “These homeowner organizations and beach community organizations all felt like they were alone … but now all of a sudden they had some they could talk to.”

The concerned citizens founded the Ocean Environment Legal Defense Fund, which pools donations to cover legal and administrative costs in filing offshore wind lawsuits. As of September, it had already raised $75,000 but has a goal of $500,000. All the money had come from small donations, Stevenson added.

The fund has helped back the legal challenge by the Nantucket Residents Against Turbines against the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a Department of Interior agency that oversees offshore wind licensing. The residents’ filing for injunctive relief argues that BOEM’s approval of the $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind project being developed by Avangrid in Massachusetts did not properly follow established processes, nor did it consider the impact on North Atlantic right whales. 

They have also voiced concerns about the future of commercial fishing in the lucrative waters where the wind farm is to be built and its impacts on tourism and ocean views. The 62-turbine project lies about 12 miles offshore, but ACOP has argued that wind farms should be sited at least 30 miles offshore.

“If [Vineyard Wind] gets approved, and isn’t challenged, it’s going to set the template for all the other 16 projects that are going up and down the East Coast,” Stevenson said of CRI’s interest in backing the Massachusetts case.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar photo
    Andy Cloud January 8, 2022

    Reminds me of the movie, Dont look up

    Reply

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