DAGSBORO — Signs of support for offshore wind power abounded outside of Indian River High School Friday.
Inside, it was just the opposite.
Waves of skepticism and opposition followed presentations by representatives of US Wind and Ørsted, two companies that have obtained leases for proposed offshore wind projects in federal waters off the Delaware/Maryland coast.
Topics of concerns included detrimental impact on marine and migratory bird life, the local fishing industry and numerous natural resources, as well as marine safety and unobstructed viewshed.
Ocean City, Maryland Mayor Rick Meehan says towering turbines sticking up more than 850 tall out of the Atlantic would have a devastating impact on the town.
“We have consistently stated and been very clear … that the town of Ocean City supports clean energy. I think many of the things that they presented tonight would certainly be good. But we do not want to see this happen at the expense of our town, Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City has one industry – that’s tourism,” said Mayor Meehan.
David Stevenson, of the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Center for Energy & Environmental Policy, said several studies indicate these wind farms could result in a 15% to 38% reduction in tourism, resulting in upward of a $1 billion loss and with it the loss of jobs.
The fishing industry – recreational and commercial – would take a huge hit, says Meghan Lapp, a fisheries liaison for Seabreeze Ltd. in Rhode Island. She addressed the panel and audience by Zoom.
“What you are looking for in wind farms from a commercial fishing perspective is essentially a complete loss of fishable areas for the next 30 years, which is going to be the career and the lifetime of the fishermen that are out there right now,” Ms. Lapp said.
In addition to danger from high-voltage cables that can become exposed as the ocean moves, Ms. Lapp said there is major concern that the electro-magnetic frequency field produced by the windmills create radar interference, leading to false images and reflections.
“Which essentially makes navigation through wind farms life-threatening,” said Ms. Lapp.
US Wind is proposing 76 turbines that could power 380,000 homes. The turbines would be about 15 miles from shore at Fenwick Island, 17 from Bethany Beach, 20 from Dewey Beach and 26 from Rehoboth Beach, according to Mike Dunmyer, US Wind, Delaware Development manager.
“We also hope to make landfall and connect to the grid in Sussex County. The important thing to remember about that is our cables will be buried … to where they ultimately will connect at an existing inland substation,” said Mr. Dunmyer. “We are hopeful that very soon the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will deem our plans to be sufficient and complete.”
Ørsted’s SkipJack Wind project includes Skipjack 1 and Skipjack 2, which will be developed and construction and operated as one project.
“Together, they will power nearly 300,000 homes in the Delmarva region and are expected to come online at the end of 2026,” said Brady Walker, Ørsted’s head of governmental and stakeholder affairs for Delaware/Maryland.
The two energy companies are scouting potential routes along Delaware’s coast and Indian River Bay to bring power ashore. “What those vessels are doing is helping us to gather the most accurate and up-to-date information that will feed into our construction and operations plan,” Mr. Walker said.
Skipjack turbines are expected to be 15 1/2 miles from the northernmost point off shore and 21 at the southernmost point.
Both companies are considering the NRG power plant in Dagsboro as a potential location to connect the electric grid.
NRG had planned to retire Indian River Unit 4, one of its last coal-fired power plants, this June. However, in response to a request from Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Maryland, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia, NRG, on behalf of Indian River Power LLC, said it would continue operating in support of the reliability need, NRG spokesman Dave Schrader said.
Friday’s offshore wind symposium was facilitated by the Fenwick Island Environmental Committee.
In March, Fenwick Island Town Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution asking federal agencies to update visualizations and radar studies to reflect the larger turbines being proposed for wind projects off the coast of Delaware and Maryland and to move offshore wind lease areas at least 30 miles offshore.
In his presentation, Mayor Meehan stated that proposed wind turbines off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia are upward of 27 to 30 miles from shore. “We believe Maryland can and should do the same,” said Mayor Meehan. He added that the monstrous windmills “will be the tallest structures in entire state of Maryland. It will look like a backdrop from ‘Star Wars’.”
Ocean City Town Manager Terry McGean said the public needs to truthful answers to several important questions, that include precisely where the turbines will be located; how many and what is the full buildout; how tall; and specific landfall point?
Proposed locations of the wind farms rest in migratory routes of numerous species of birds and fish, several speakers said.
Bonnie Brady, executive director of Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk, New York, said sonar from site surveying and electromagnetic frequency through cables will result in long-term migratory changes that will have a detrimental impact on marine life, including several endangered species of whales.
“It will change the ecosystem of the area,” Ms. Brady said.
According to Mr. Dunmyer, once US Wind’s plan is deemed complete by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a two-year public process will be in motion, assessing every federal law that exists, with “numerous opportunities for public engagement to share views.”
Mr. Walker said Ørsted, a Danish company, is unique in that we “will build, own and operate our projects. It means we will have a presence here for a long time. We are responsible for the entire life cycle of Skipjack Wind and that is a responsibility we take quite seriously. So, we have to absolutely agree that we must get this right.”
Symposium moderator Janet Dudley Eshbach, former president of Salisbury University, said invitations were extended to representatives from the Office of Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. However, no representatives attended the two-plus hour event.
Several speakers, including Mr. Stevenson, disagreed with company projections on cost and permanent jobs, saying of the thousands of jobs advertised, only about 50 will be permanent. Mr. Stevenson added his projection is that most jobs for these projects will be held by workers from European countries.
Geoff Pohanka, chairman of the Pohanka Automotive Group and a resident of North Bethany Beach, has been focused on the offshore wind proposal for several years.
“I look at this from both the aesthetic standpoint and economic standpoint,” said Mr. Pohanka. “The past couple years I have tried to peel back the onion — what does this really mean?”
Mr. Pohanka, who also questions the number of permanent jobs, believes the wind farm projects will result in fewer visitors, fewer renters, fewer jobs, lower tax receipts, as well as concern for birds and marine wildlife.
“The reason we are here is to reduce CO2 emissions. The question is would these wind turbines actually reduce CO2 emissions. It’s an important question, and a question that hasn’t been answered,” said Mr. Pohanka.