Hmm..environmental impact of a wind turbine. No need for millions of gallons of cooling water. No need to grind millions of fish up to get the cooling water. No emissions let alone fuel price inflation. New wildlife habitat. No fuel leaks or oil spills into the water. No fuel waste generated requiring bulk or long term storage and government oversight. No agregious generation cost hikes like we see with regional generators now. Yes, the environmental impact is big.
[caption id="attachment_226350" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] While the wind turbine at the University of Delaware's Lewes campus is currently the sole one in the state, new offshore wind projects will likely bring them to ocean horizons in coming years. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
REHOBOTH BEACH – In recent years, Delaware’s coastal beach cities have seen an increasing number of changes driven by economic winds, reshaping expensive residential communities and main street commercial centers.They may soon see such changes on the once immutable horizon too as offshore wind farm projects near the end of their planning phases.Two projects by developers Ørsted and US Wind have been permitted by Maryland energy regulators to help meet its renewable energy goal, with US Wind aiming to begin work as early as 2024.
[caption id="attachment_218948" align="alignright" width="300"] 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[/caption]
Those approaching timelines have led to a rekindling of public debate over whether Delaware should allow such projects close enough to its shores to be visible and what environmental impacts they may have. On Sept. 27, Rehoboth Beach city officials hosted a workshop where all federal, state and local officials updated the public. Company representatives, university professors and public policy advocates also provided their view of the projects.Could Delaware nix the projects in federal waters visible from our shores? Not unilaterally.Jennifer Holmes, coastal regulatory programs manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, explained that the state would have authority over any projects on its land, notably including the building of transmission infrastructure that has led to public outcry over the two projects to date.DNREC’s Division of Air Quality also has some regulatory authority on the Outer Continental Shelf from the state boundary out to about 25 nautical miles and some authority over alternative energy projects developed beyond that boundary in what’s known as its “geographic location description.” That occurs during a “federal consistency” process where projects have to adhere to any pertinent state environmental policies.“Please note that this is not a permit. We are not permitting them to do or not do something … It is a concurrence. After reviewing and assessing your documents or plan we either agree that you will be in coordination with our policies, we can object saying that you're not going to be consistent with our policies or we can also issue a conditional concurrence meaning that if you do these things, then you'll be consistent with our enforceable policies of the state,” she told residents.Which means that the local opposition to the wind farms – led primarily by Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan and David Stevenson, an advocate with the libertarian Newark-based think tank Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI) – will likely have to turn to the courts to prevent their development.CRI has spearheaded the formation of the American Coalition for Ocean Protection, a national coalition of Atlantic Coast groups with concerns about the development of offshore wind farms. Last year, ACOP backed a Massachusetts group in a federal lawsuit against a wind farm developer near Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and this week it joined a local coalition to file suit to prevent a wind farm development off Virginia Beach, Va.The Massachusetts suit is awaiting a judge’s ruling on motions to dismiss filed by the developers and the Biden administration, and that suit’s future may hinge on expert testimony regarding a lack of air quality testing by the plaintiffs. A similar lack of scientific studies doomed a CRI-backed lawsuit against Delaware over the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.Nevertheless, many in the public are still supportive of the opposition’s efforts as their presentations drew rounds of applause.At the Rehoboth workshop, Stevenson continued to raise concerns about the impact of the wind turbines on tourism, citing a North Carolina State University study that found a large number of tourists may avoid a beach with visible turbines. He also questioned the impact of construction and operation of the turbines on wildlife, including North Atlantic right whales, migratory birds and horseshoe crabs, and the cost of wind power production without taxpayer-backed subsidies.Meehan also warned listeners to be skeptical of claims from developers about the visual impact of their projects, noting that turbine sizes have grown dramatically in the Maryland projects since they were first proposed nearly a decade ago.“When I look at Ocean City and the Delaware beaches, we only have one industry and that's tourism. People from throughout the Mid Atlantic area come to our seashores to enjoy the beach, the ocean, and the pristine, untouched natural views off of our coast. Why would we want to do anything to jeopardize this successful formula?” he said.For University of Delaware professors Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton though, the science was clear: Wind power is a productive future source of renewable energy and the best way forward for small-in-size Delaware.Kempton, who recently co-authored the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind report in Delaware, refuted Stevenson’s assertion that ratepayers may face rising costs with offshore wind, noting that Delaware ratepayers would actually be benefited through what’s known as “price suppression.” While energy credits for the projects may solely be used by developers in Maryland, because of the interconnected power grid, ratepayers elsewhere will see competitive pricing, he explained.“Some of the same generators that can either sell to Maryland or Delaware are faced with [the question]: ‘Do we shut down or do we actually operate at a lower cost and make less profit?’” he added.Kempton said government subsidies would make renewable energy cheaper, leading to increased pressure on legacy power producers who would remain the biggest opponents, but ratepayers wouldn’t be seeing higher costs due to the development of offshore wind.Firestone noted that studies from the last three years in Block Island, R.I., the site of the only U.S. offshore wind farm to date, found that home values had not been impacted by the wind farms and that Airbnb rentals had actually increased in the years since their completion. A survey of residents one year after the Rhode Island project’s completion found more people reporting favorable opinions of the project than beforehand.Despite those findings, Firestone noted that there are inevitable drawbacks, noting that offshore wind isn’t a “win-win.”“Even among supporters [in Block Island], almost 22% said [the turbines] cause an intangible loss where all you see is the ocean,” he said. “It's not a win-win. There are going to be losses. We're losing something, but we have to save our planet.”
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