[caption id="attachment_225857" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The first American wind farm started operations in 2017 in Block Island, Rhode Island. Two Maryland projects are on their way through the process. | PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASHED/SHAUN DAKIN[/caption]
REHOBOTH BEACH — With offshore wind getting closer to reality and Delaware’s Climate Action Plan codified into law, state officials are once again preparing to study how to best plug into the industry even as some locals remain opposed.Gov. John Carney signed Senate Bill 170 last August, which directs the state to work with the PJM Interconnection to study the impacts of bringing transmission lines from Maryland wind farm projects into the First State. The bill also directs another study to be conducted on the process for procuring offshore wind power.With the third study commissioned in 15 years, Delaware’s neighboring states of New Jersey and Maryland have raced ahead of it to embrace offshore wind. The first study in 2008 proposed 150 wind turbines off the coast, but later ended when financing of the project seemed unfeasible. Another study in 2018 deemed the cost of wind power was too expensive.Meanwhile, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill to tap into the industry in 2013, which spurred U.S. Wind and Ørsted to plan wind farms off the coast of Ocean City. Today, seven offshore wind projects have been proposed off the East Coast that would generate a total of 43 megawatts of power. “We’ve been having discussions on the best way to participate, whether it’s to buy existing energy from projects in New Jersey and Maryland,” Carney said during the bill signing ceremony on Aug. 3. “But that transmission line is key. In the southern part of our state, there’s issues in terms of power… and we need a grid that can accommodate all the power for new solar energy generators, households and big projects. A lot of people don’t think about that.”SB 170 specifically requires the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to work with PJM, similar to the existing work that has been done for the grid operator’s Offshore Wind Transmission Study Phase 1 kicked off two years ago.PJM is in the middle of its second phase of the study, but has been delayed until 2024 to include large-scale transmission upgrades discuss right now, said PJM spokesman Jeff Shields.So far, transmission lines — or the cables that connect the wind turbines to substations to provide power to the grid — is one of the few ways Delaware could participate in the industry. A previous proposal by Ørsted to bring its transmission line to Fenwick Island State Park and build a new substation brought considerable local opposition though.Still, both Ørsted and U.S Wind are looking to bring the transmission lines ashore in the First State. Ørsted unveiled plans this month to make landfall at Route 26 in Dagsboro and build a new substation near the Indian River Power Plant. U.S. Wind has filed plans to bring cables to either 3R Beach or Tower Road at the Delaware Seashore Park to connect to a substation.“The problem is, when you get south of the Maryland-Delaware border, the grid becomes weaker and frankly, more problematic, so a project our size can’t make landfall,” U.S. Wind Delaware Development Manager Mike Dunmyer told members of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce at a September meeting. “That spot has been identified as really the best place to connect the large power plant to this area.”The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is in the middle of a two-year study of environmental and technical impacts under the U.S Wind proposal, as it would require underground drilling to place the cable lines. But even with these projects underway, the federal government has made it clear that offshore wind is only a growing industry. In August, the BOEM announced another 101,767-acre area that is 30 miles from Delaware Bay.If Delaware aims to bring in its own wind farm, University of Delaware Professor Willett Kempton notes that the state should be ready to create a process to outline who will build it, and sooner rather than later.“This is a crowded market, but there is competition for space, and that’s the reason to get procurement out early, say, the first half of next year. [Ørsted and U.S. Wind] do have space left so they can bid on that,” Kempton said. “One of the easy things to do to start the process would be to have a law that establishes a system and offers open solicitation for bids to power.”In the past, state officials argued that the best way Delaware would benefit from offshore wind was the jobs both projects would bring. A study prepared by DNRECsuggested that projects on the East Coast would bring $109 billion in spending and 83,000 jobs over the next decade. But with many states ahead of Delaware in the promise to build turbines, those neighboring states are also ahead in terms of manufacturing facilities. Sparrows Point Steel, a hub built by U.S.Wind at the former site of Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore, is expected to build turbine components with 125 union construction workers.But Dunmyer believes there is still ample opportunity for Delaware to step into an industry well-established overseas.“With early projects, they were able to go to manufacturers in Europe where the supply chain exists. But they will almost all be tapped out fulfilling their own national demand. If we make our own goals here, we can have a domestic supply chain here,” he said.He pointed to a 2023 study from theNational Renewable Energy Laboratory that forecast the need for 34 factories in the country as well as eight marshaling ports, at least four heavy-lift vessels and four turbine-installation vessels. The study also suggests that major component plants could create 10,000 jobs by 2035 and sub-assemblies could require another 45,000 jobs. The University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College are both working on establishing education and training programs for skills in the industry.“That’s obviously a huge opportunity, and it can be a huge opportunity in Delaware. Maryland is driving our project, as a result of the procurement requirements. But it doesn’t have to be the only way it happens,” Dunmeyer said. “I certainly hope Delaware establishes a procurement program. As a guy who lives here, it’d be great to establish some good work here.”Still, local critics like the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Dave Steveson, who organized opposition to the Ørsted line several years ago, argue that offshore wind developers are being hit by inflation and higher interest rates that will trickle down to the costs paid by users for the energy.“Most of the states have gone with renewable credits, and that gets passed onto electric customers directly. We’ve done that with solar. But with offshore wind, it’s currently adding $100 million to electric bills with newly sought price guarantees in New York,” Stevenson said.