State may see nation's first offshore wind farm


Anyone who lives in the area can regale the unwary with stories about nor’easters and the tail ends of hurricanes that pass by the Delaware coast. But in a matter of years, that wind, which people often take for granted, could become the solution to all the area’s electrical needs.

As the world’s fastest-growing energy source, wind has been harvested through 25 offshore projects operating in eight countries — primarily off the coast of Denmark — for 15 years, but none are in the continental United States. Bluewater Wind hopes to change that, starting with Delaware.

The Delaware General Assembly recently passed a new law, House Bill 6, which requires more electrical power for the state – a response that came as a result of nationwide increase of fuel prices. In reply to this demand, Delmarva Power issued a Request for Proposal on Nov. 1 for the construction of new, cost-effective generation resources in Delaware.

In a brief presentation on Monday, Nov. 27, representatives from Bluewater Wind shared with Ocean View Mayor Gary Meredith and other town residents their plan to bring the country’s first electric power generated by an offshore wind farm to Delaware.

“The most important thing offshore wind energy can bring to the area,” said Rob Propes, Delaware project director for Bluewater Wind, “is stable-priced energy.”

As a Newark resident, Propes said he has experienced the state-wide price spikes. In addition, he noted, offshore wind would increase fuel diversity and reduce environmental impacts.

In close competition for Delaware’s new power resource contract is NRG, who would like to expand their coal-powered facility on the Indian River Bay. Coal companies run a tough opposition, noted Propes, and may have some initial advantages.

“We’re not the cheapest power source on Day 1,” Propes added. “But, over the length of the system and the rates that are generated, you will pay less for wind energy. For the RFP we are proposing to, there are points given not only for the here-and-now cost, but the stability of that plan. They will have to look at what future costs they might have to bear down the road.”

“What the Legislature and Delmarva Power want to see is what I call ‘true costs,’” said Bluewater Wind spokesman Jim Lanard. “This consists of all the costs associated with building this facility and buying this power. There will be a Day 1 comparison, but there will also be a 15- or 20- or 25-year comparison.

“What we see happening with the price of fossil fuel facilities is a sharp increase over time,” he continued. “There’s carbon tax. There’s carbon sequestration, the act of putting carbon dioxide into the ground, which has never been done before, but it’s a new technology which is being considered. These are very pricy expenses in the long run.”

As for a starting figure for Bluewater Wind’s proposal, Propes said that that number is not available at this time.

“We have an enormous amount of folks working for us right now just to get to that answer. We have 80 different consultants, meteorologists and geologists all helping us get that number.”

The price of the fuel may come cheap. However, the price for building the windmill farm is estimated to run around $800 to $900 million.

Propes stressed, though, that the resource he supports is not a new, unrealistic idea.

“Offshore wind energy has been proven to work,” he said. “It’s not a technology for tomorrow or way in the future. It’s here today. [Turbines] have been spinning since 1991.”

The actual project itself would consist of 200 windmill turbines, in a “farm” that would measure roughly 20 by 30 miles. Turbines would stand roughly a half-mile apart, on poles that reach 80 meters out of the water, with minimal clearance of 100 feet from the water surface to the blade tip.

There are no exclusion zones planned around the wind project area, allowing boats to simply pass through the farm. Three locations for the site have been proposed – one located in the Delaware Bay and two off the southern coast of the state. While a single location will suffice for Bluewater Wind’s plan, Propes insisted that they do not wish to lock Delmarva Power and other state agencies into a limited area.

The location for the closest proposed windmill farm is still 6 nautical miles, or 7 highway miles, off the state’s coastline.

“Homeowners and beachgoers along the shore may not want to see these,” admitteed Lanard. But, “At that distance, [the turbines] will appear half the size of your thumbnail and as thin as a toothpick.”

According to extensive 20-year research provided by University of Delaware’s marine studies and engineering programs, the Delaware coastline is suited for offshore wind energy. “The university is highly supportive of this plan,” said Propes, “and they’ve put a lot of time into this research.”

“These windmills will be built to sustain a Category 4 hurricane in the North Atlantic,” emphasized Lanard. “What’s more important is that the insurance company that insures us — this is about $1 billion of investments — has decided that it’s a good risk.

“Generally, if you have a storm like this, you may lose one or two turbines, or maybe three,” he said. “There will be as much as 200 in the ocean site, so we have a lot of leeway here. If you lose a power plant on the shore, you’ve lost all of it, as compared to 1/200ths or 3/200ths.”

Bluewater Wind will submit their final version of their offshore plans Delmarva Power and the Public Service Commission on Dec. 22. The proposal will then be handed to three other state agencies for final consideration: DNREC, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office Controller.

If granted the contract, completion is still four to five years off, though construction could start as early as March 2009. Years of research would still be required before construction begins, including extensive analysis of the migration and flight patterns of birds.

“From the environmental perspective and from the consumer respective, people will be getting a really good deal here in Delaware,” said Lanard.

For more information on Bluewater Wind, including environmental benefits and project plans, visit their Web site at www.bluewaterwind.com.