Danish clean-energy company Ørsted has expanded plans for wind farm projects off Delmarva’s coast that could power 250,000 homes in Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states.
However, the double-pronged proposal — Skipjack 1, a 120-megawatt project approved by Maryland’s Public Service Commission in 2017, and Skipjack 2, a much larger proposal still in the bidding process — continues to fan questions.
Recently, Ørsted submitted a bid to the Maryland PSC to develop Skipjack 2, a proposed project of up to 760 megawatts.
Delaware’s coast is the preferred location for the initiative’s land-based interconnects.
During a virtual webinar hosted by Ørsted on Monday, Deb Henry, the project’s development director, said site selection is ongoing.
“Right now, we don’t know where we are interconnecting on land,” said Ms. Henry. “That is part of our current investigation. Again, we are trying to find the best possible interconnection site and landfall for all our stakeholders. We have several options. They are being investigated. We have current surveys underway right now, both onshore and off. Hopefully, we will be able to wrap those up by the end of the year and have a true interconnection site that we can make public.”
She added that the undertaking can take some time.
“The process that we go through, a lot of it is internal to Ørsted, trying to figure out the best spot to land, not just for the cables and not just for the wind farm but that is going to be the least disruptive to the community, the least disruptive to the environment but also to support what we need it to do. It’s a long process,” she said. “We typically try to choose several options and keep them in play until we can finally narrow down a specific landfall and know that’s the way that we are going. One has not been chosen. One likely will not be chosen for a while.”
In July 2020, Ørsted abandoned its plan for a land interconnect at Fenwick Island State Park through a lease agreement with Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control after an evaluation revealed significant undisturbed wetlands at that site. Under that proposal, Ørsted pledged to invest $15 million to $18 million to address needs at the state park.
The plans for the Fenwick Island State Park interconnect and offshore turbines in federally designated lease areas some 20 miles off Delaware’s southernmost coast spurred heavy opposition from residents, as well as Fenwick town officials. One of the main objections was the potential negative impact on the view and its effect on tourism.
“I really want to emphasize that we see this as just one conversation of many that we are planning to have over the long term,” said Brady Walker, mid-Atlantic market manager for Ørsted. “Outreach is a critical part of the work that we are doing here with the regard to the Skipjack project in Maryland and Delaware. We truly value the opportunity to present to each of you … our plans and our progress but also understand that we have the responsibility to listen and have conversation around this new but rapidly expanding industry in the United States.”
The peak height of the turbine Ørsted plans to use for Skipjack 1 — approved in August 2020 by Maryland’s PSC — is approximately 850 feet from waterline to the tip of an upright blade.
“Skipjack 1 is currently planned to be about 20 miles from the Maryland-Delaware line, for example. We are looking in the 15-16-mile range from the closest points in Delaware for Skipjack 2. Again, (Skipjack 2) is not an approved project. So we’ll have to wait for a final award there,” Mr. Walker said.
He explained that the federal lease itself has an odd shape relative to the coast of Delaware.
Mr. Walker emphasized that the federal government designates lease areas in the United States with an intensive, detailed permitting process at various levels.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is part of the Department of the Interior, has the lead in identifying areas and working with numerous federal agencies and state and local governments “to deconflict those areas, taking into account stakeholder concerns, before the lease areas are even approved for the development purposed,” said Mr. Walker.
“In the case of the Skipjack wind farm areas, the process to identify and deconflict that area began back in 2009 and was completed about two years later. It was first leased to a company called Bluewater Wind in 2012 … and assigned to Ørsted in 2016.”
Once projects are awarded, the federal government assumes the role of the permitting authority. The permitting process considers all state and local permits that must be obtained, including onshore work and work in state waters 3 miles off the coast, Mr. Walker said.
During the webinar, Mr. Walker responded to a question posed that since the federal government controls the lease area and regulates the regional grid operators, why shouldn’t it also assume control over the project’s inception and implementation?
“That really comes down to the way the industry was organized in the U.S. State governments are in charge of creating their own renewable-energy strategies and, as a result, can choose to include a renewable-energy source like offshore wind. It’s really a decision the federal government has left to the states to make,” he said.
Ms. Henry added, “The federal government does control the permitting process and part of the approval process, so they are heavily involved in the project through conception and implementation.”
According to Ørsted, Skipjack 2 will secure the region’s central position in the new American offshore wind industry for decades to come — not only as a hub for new manufacturing and port facilities but also as a training center for the new green workforce.
In July 2019, Ørsted announced a landmark agreement to develop Maryland’s first offshore wind energy staging center at Tradepoint Atlantic, a 3,300-acre global logistics center in Baltimore County.
Tradepoint Atlantic is where Ørsted will “do various component marshaling and other scopes of work related to the actual construction and development of the project,” Mr. Walker said. “It will also come in the form of establishing an operations and maintenance base in the Ocean City, Maryland, area. Skipjack 2 is very much an extension of Skipjack 1.
It’s a considerable extension of the project. We anticipate a real expansion of our work at places like Tradepoint Atlantic.”
Mr. Walker noted that, about a year ago, Ørsted held its first supplier day in Delaware, in Bethany Beach.
“We had plans for more, but COVID changed those plans. But we will reset with a full schedule of those events. It’s a terrific opportunity for small local businesses to understand how they can work with our prime contractors and become a part of the industry,” said Mr. Walker, adding that it is a great chance “for people who are looking for jobs to come learn about the kind of opportunities that are going to be available.”
In 1991, Ørsted constructed the first offshore wind farm, a 5-megawatt facility off the coast of Denmark. After 30 years of service, that farm has been decommissioned.
In the United States, Ørsted has one wind farm in operation, the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island’s coast. It has six others in development.
Worldwide, Ørsted has 28 projects, with 1,500 turbines.
“I understand that there have been and likely still are a lot of questions around this project and the larger industry and perhaps even some confusion,” said Mr. Walker. “We look at this first opportunity of conversation. We’d be happy to work with each of you and your organizations well into the future to make sure that you have the information that you want and that you need.”
Questions and answers
The following questions were posed to the Ørsted officials during Monday’s webinar:
“Right now, we are in environmental and engineering studies. We are investigating additional landfalls, seeing what the best landfall and interconnection site would be for all of our stakeholders — community stakeholders, environmental stakeholders, offshore marine stakeholders,” said Ms. Henry. “We do plan to get ourselves up and running by 2026. So those should be wrapping up by the end of the year.”
“There certainly will be benefits for Delaware small businesses and Delawareans as a result of bringing the Skipjack project online,” Mr. Walker said. “We are also currently evaluating options for a landfall in Delaware and their construction efforts — grid upgrades, new substation.”
“Skipjack … will interconnect into a shared grid network that’s called PJM (Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland, the grid operator). So electrons, they’ll go where the demand is,” said Mr. Walker. “A number of them will go to end users, homes and businesses in Maryland. Some will go to homes and businesses in Delaware. It’s really demand-based.”
The lights, Mr. Walker said, would be Federal Aviation Administration beacons on top of turbines, as required by the federal government.
“We are working with the industry and the federal government on what’s called an Aircraft Detection Lighting System — ADLS. Those lights would only turn on when aircraft are in the area,” he said. “If that technology is approved for use, we certainly will bring it … to the Skipjack project.
“As for visibility on the beach, … under certain conditions the turbines will be sort of faintly visible on the horizon. It will be difficult on a hot summer day when there is haze over the horizon to see the wind farm,” Mr. Walker said.
Mr. Walker said turbines are internally programmed to stop in high winds, such as during a hurricane.
“We are actively pursuing those kinds of partnerships. Workforce development is an enormously important part of bringing this industry to life in a sustainable way in the country but certainly in Maryland and in Delaware,” Mr. Walker said. “We are committed to investing in those partnerships, whether it is new programming or expanding existing programs, and getting people into those programs. That is a large part of (our) focus, especially as we move toward development of the actual projects.”