South Bethany has been following developments in the oceanic windmill business, perhaps more closely than any other beach town in Delaware.
Council Member Bonnie Lambertson has monitored New York-based Winergy activities with particular interest, and invited representatives to host a limited-seating information session in South Bethany on May 20.
Lambertson introduced Winergy’s Dennis Quaranta, president, and Bob Link, permit compliance officer, for discussion regarding the company’s tentative plans in this area. “Instead of taking a negative or positive position, we’re trying to get enough information to see how things stand, and how we feel about it,” she said.
Winergy has filed preliminary application for a 67-acre, 306-windmill farm off the Sussex coast, stretching from the Indian River Inlet to Fenwick.
It’s still just a preliminary application at this point — the company’s floated similar projects up and down the Northeast coast, but the U.S. has yet to see its first oceanic windmill. Winergy has already backed away from a handful of applications in the face of public opposition.
However, according to Quaranta, they’re about to hear back on a pilot project off the New York shoreline, and results there could get the other projects moving more quickly.
He said he hoped to pull permits maybe by the beginning of the year, or early next year.
The windmills would be about 450 feet tall at the hub, with the outer tips of the blades scribing a circle nearly 350-foot in diameter, and set in relatively shallow continental (federal) waters, 3.5 miles off the coast, per the proposal.
At that distance, the windmills would be quite visible from the beach — appearing to be a couple inches tall — and that had been one of the major objections.
Quaranta said they were looking at new technology that would enable them to move their operation further offshore, which would address that aesthetic concern.
Still unproven, but with some results expected in coming weeks, those deep-water windmills would be rigged similar to offshore oil, on three-legged “jack-up” barges.
Bird mortality is another major concern, pitting different groups of environmentalists against one another. However, according to Link, it’s the land-based windmills that are the real problem, and even there, one particular wind farm — Altamont Pass, Calif. — skews the average. Altamont Pass was unwittingly constructed in the middle of an “avian flyway.”
Link said there was no such flyway off the Sussex coast — and at any rate, plate glass was the number one bird-killer, followed by cell phone towers, he added, with windmills ranking near the bottom of the list.
Fishermen have objected to wind farms placing large areas out of bounds, but Link said the towers would be around 2,000 feet apart — possibly too close for large dragnet operations, but other than that, unrestricted. He said the windmill underpinnings would likely become a favored hideout for fish.
In addition, Quaranta said they planned to build “safe havens” every few windmills, with a cache of food and water and communications to land.
Rob Halminski remained unconvinced on the fishing issues. He said he wasn’t against green energy, but wondered how much a wind farm right off the Sussex coast would really benefit the locals — would the electricity even stay in the area, he asked.
Quaranta said they were driven to build the windmills near developed areas, and power grid connections.
One audience member, Michael Fox, citing his 32 years of experience in power generation, said outside power plants were currently filling an energy deficit in this area.
So, any new power generation would likely serve this area, but Fox said there was another problem — wind power was intermittent. Coal and nuclear power plants don’t like to cycle down more than a percentage point or two, he said — it would be difficult for them to slow up to accommodate extra energy entering the grid from offshore.
However, another audience member said there was new technology that could indeed make wind a “base load” power source.
According to a recent University of Delaware (UD) publication, “Coastal Management,” (2005), wind energy is a “mature technology,” and wind resources off the Northeast could provide nearly as much electricity as all the fossil-fuel burning power plants from Maine to Maryland, combined (95 versus 99 gigawatts).
And that’s using only one-third of the total area best suited for wind harvest, the report continued — assuming no navigational or environmental issues, wind farms on the Atlantic shelf could generate up to 400 gigawatts of energy.
One way or another, Fox said the U.S. would need to do something soon — most of the existing power plants are more than 40 years old and reaching the end of their effective lives.
R. Chris Clark (Fenwick Island town council member, but speaking unofficially) thanked Link and Quaranta for their presentation.
“I take a look at where we stand in our country today, and each one of us is a steward of our children and our grandchildren, and their children’s future,” he said. “This is something new that we’re looking into, and change isn’t always acceptable to each and everyone of us, but as stewards of this planet, shame on us for not looking at ways to make this a better place to live.”
Aside from Clark, Bethany Beach Council Member Harry Steele put in an appearance (but had to leave early for the Bethany council meeting), as did Ocean View Mayor Gary Meredith (and his wife, Bette).
Lambertson was joined by fellow Council Members Bob Cestone, Marge Gassinger and Richard Ronan and Mayor Gary Jayne.