One step closer to offshore wind power


It had become somewhat doubtful over the past year that Delaware would ever have an offshore wind farm. But, in a compromise reached this week, it appears the wind park could be built about 12 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach by 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Anthony DeLuca (D-Newark East) pushed Delmarva Power to reach the compromise with Babcock & Brown, which took over the project and wind-power company Bluewater Wind last year.

“It has taken a lot of work, but we have reached a compromise that still allows Delaware to become a leader in the offshore wind industry, while protecting the interests of Delmarva Power’s residential customers in Delaware,” DeLuca said.

The compromise was reached by continuing work on a compromise, even when it seemed hope was lost.

“In the face of occasional criticism … it was a real commitment,” said Hunter Armistead, head of Babcock & Brown’s North American Wind Energy Group.

Armistead sat in a room with Gary Stockbridge, president of Delmarva Power, and together they hammered out details they could both live with.

“It has been a long, long road,” said Stockbridge.

The 25-year agreement stipulates that Delmarva Power will buy 200 megawatts of power from the offshore wind-power farm. It also allows other companies and neighboring states to purchase power from the farm, allowing Babcock & Brown to build it out to a maximum of 600 megawatts, as originally proposed.

Progress on the project will come in a series of steps.

First, enabling legislation needs to be passed by the General Assembly. Stockbridge said he hopes that legislation is passed this week before the General Assembly session ends.

Then the agreement will go back to state agencies and the Public Service Commission. The four state agencies — including the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Comptroller General’s Office – will discuss if it meets the stipulations of the legislation to find new homegrown energy sources.

“This is just the first step of many to come,” said Armistead.

This offshore wind park will join other renewable energy sources purchased by Delmarva Power, including land-based wind operations.

“With the addition of this contract, I’m confident we will meet the aggressive renewable energy goals established by Delaware in 2007,” said Stockbridge. Under the state’s renewable energy goals, Delmarva Power must ensure that 20 percent of its electricity supply comes from renewable sources by the year 2019, Stockbridge said.

The cost to the ratepayer will also be lowered from the original proposal because fewer turbines will be built. Instead of 200 turbines, only about 55 to 66 turbines will be built in the Atlantic, said Armistead.

This — paired with the proposed legislative changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), to allow for energy credits for offshore wind, similar to those allowed to residents who use solar power — will help residents, said Stockbridge.

In the United States, Babcock & Brown currently operates 20 wind farms across nine states, totaling more than 1,500 megawatts of installed capacity. The company also has more than 18 additional wind farms under development across the country, as of January 2008, according to their Web site at www.babcockbrown.com.

“I think we can finally breathe a sigh of relief,” said Kit Zak, who with her husband, Bill, founded Citizens for Clean Power, based in Lewes. “With the escalating cost of coal and natural gas, wind is looking like a great deal.”

Since 2006, the Zaks and many residents have been the backbone of a grassroots movement to support renewable energy, specifically the offshore wind farm, proposed by Bluewater Wind.

“This achievement is due, in great part, to the tenacious efforts of thousands of Delawareans who saw the vision two years ago, understood the facts and demanded that our leaders seize a great opportunity,” said Bill Zak. “Outstanding volunteer researchers and bloggers, environmental activists around the state and government officials all helped build the path forward.”

Other environmentalists continue to be wary about the deal. At least until they get their questions answered, said Alan Muller of Green Delaware.

Muller said he and other representatives of green movements were not permitted to attend the press conference announcing the agreement. Therefore, he was also unable to view a copy of the agreement — something he said was not right after the push for wind fueled by citizens.

In response, Matt Likovich, spokesman for Delmarva Power, said the company felt the best way to get the information out quickly was by first giving it to the press and then letting them distribute it.

“The final details regarding this agreement came together quickly, so a news conference provided the best and most efficient method of updating the media on the latest information,” said Likovich. “As always, we are willing to listen and evaluate any customer feedback that results from news media stories regarding today’s announcement.”

Bluewater Wind, a company that began the process to build a wind farm off Delaware’s coast in 2005, said they were proud the plan has finally come together.

“This is an historic day for our country,” said Peter Mandelstam, founder and president of Bluewater Wind. “By signing this first-ever formal contract in the United States for the sale of pollution-free, stable-priced energy generated from our offshore wind farm, Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power will usher in a new era of power generation that benefits from utility-scale power plants located far from our shores.

“We now expect even greater interest in offshore wind farms, the development of which will help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of fuel and will serve to aid in the fight against climate change and sea-level rise.”