Delaware Public Media

Offshore wind power's pros and cons

Aug 29, 2017

State officials are studying the possibility of renewing efforts to bring an offshore wind farm to Delaware’s coast. One issue sure to be raised is how bringing one in could affect the beach economy. 


Picture the sight of wind turbines about 15 miles from the beaches but still visible in the distance. Would that affect tourism in a coastal town like Rehoboth? Incoming Mayor Paul Kuhns says he doesn’t think so.


“I know people will notice them from the boardwalk and from the beaches, but it will be this little kind of finger sticking up way out there,” Kuhns said.


Offshore wind has a lot of benefits, including being a carbon-free renewable source with low environmental impact, said Jeremy Firestone, a University of Delaware professor and the director for the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration.


But there can be some downsides, like the cost of wind energy.


“The cost that a consumer is going to see on their electricity bill — it would cause their electricity bill to increase,” Firestone said.


And even the appearance of the large structures in the environment can be a downside. Firestone said his team has surveyed people to understand how bringing an offshore wind farm in could affect residents’ perceptions of the environment. 


“Delawareans see wind turbines as consistent with their views of the proper use of the ocean. They are attached to the ocean, they have a people-place relationship with the ocean, but they see the wind turbines as being consistent with that,” Firestone said.


But Firestone says not all residents feel this way. His team last surveyed people on the beach in 2008. He says they’ll conduct surveys on wind energy again locally if Gov. John Carney (D) asks them to as part of his new working group.


About a decade ago, Bluewater Wind held leases to a plot for an offshore wind farm in Delaware, but plans fell through after the Great Recession when a lack of financing killed the project. If the plans had succeeded, Rehoboth Beach would have held the first offshore wind farm in the country.


“I’ve never been a big believer in being first,” Firestone said. “Ultimately you want to be best and you want to be able to bring the best things forward.”