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Delaware has little authority over planned wind farms, but looking for some say.

Ørsted wind farm
Ørsted

The process is underway to build wind farms along the Atlantic coast near Delaware. But the First State has no real say in what they’ll look like in size and scope – only some influence in how they may operate.

This week, contributor Jon Hurdle explains what that means for the state and towns along the Delaware coast.

Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne and contributor Jon Hurdle discuss wind power and Delaware.

Delaware will have a say in where and how wind power comes ashore from two planned offshore farms in the next few years but it has little influence over their siting or size despite opposition from some coastal communities, the state’s top environmental official said.

Shawn Garvin, Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said officials remain involved in discussions over where cables from two new wind farms near the Delaware shore will make landfall and be connected to the local electric grid.

But the state has no power to stop the construction of the two farms because they are in federal waters and have been authorized by regulators in Maryland, Garvin said, even though one of them, the 70-turbine Skipjack project, is due to be built 15 miles or more off Fenwick Island in southern Delaware.

“On the Maryland projects off the coast of Delaware, we don’t really have a role in that process to say ‘Hey, some of our visitors or citizens don’t like wind farms so Delaware’s vetoing your ability to use those federal areas,’” he said in an interview.

For the Skipjack project, the state could express any objections to the federal government, which controls the leasing of ocean wind areas, but Delaware has no power to block the project.

“We don’t have a veto right, and they can override our objection, but basically there is a mechanism for us to have a conversation,” Garvin said.

Still, Delaware would have a lot more influence over the siting and size of any future wind farms that were authorized by its own Public Service Commission, and that possibility remains under discussion, Garvin said.

Although Delaware backed away from seeking bids on its own offshore wind farm in 2018 when Gov. John Carney’s Offshore Wind Working Group concluded that the time wasn’t right, officials remain engaged in the topic, and are expected to receive a new report on the issue from the University of Delaware in coming weeks.

“We don’t have a veto right, and they can override our objection, but basically there is a mechanism for us to have a conversation.”
DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvib

“The price seems to be going down, and so we are looking at what that would mean for a potential Delaware project moving forward,” Garvin said. He called the upcoming report “an updating of information that will help the decision-making process.”

UD’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind is due to deliver the report soon on the cost and impact of an offshore wind project, and that will help determine whether the state decides to move forward, he said.

“It’s something that we should be seeing in the near future,” he said. “That will be the next step of conversations that we will have in Delaware for determining if this is a viable option and on what scale.”

Delaware is the only one of nine Atlantic coast states that does not have a policy commitment to purchase offshore wind power in coming years, according to the UD researchers.

For the wind farms that are already permitted by Maryland, Delaware will be able to influence decisions on how their energy is connected to the electric grid onshore. That’s because the major substation for the Delmarva Peninsula is at Indian River, and would have to be connected to the new power source even if cables came ashore in Maryland.

If the builders of the two Maryland projects – Ørsted and U.S. Wind – decide to bring their power ashore in Delaware, the state will have authority to regulate disturbance to its underwater lands, and to tidal wetlands, Garvin said. And it would have more influence if the plans involve state-owned property.

Ørsted’s Skipjack project is due to generate 966 megawatts, or enough to power 300,000 homes, starting in 2026. U.S. Wind’s MarWin project, about 17 miles off Ocean City, MD, is due to use 22 turbines to generate 270 mw or enough to power some 80,000 homes, starting in 2024.

Skipjack wind farm map
Ørsted
A map of where the proposed Skipjack wind farm will be located

Despite expectations that offshore wind power will curb carbon emissions, some leaders in coastal communities are speaking out against offshore wind, saying that a forest of turbines would be visible from their beaches, and would drive away the economically essential tourist trade.

Vicki Carmean, mayor of Fenwick Island, is hoping to mobilize public opinion against the Skipjack wind farm but isn’t optimistic that she will be able to persuade state leaders to do anything about the project.

“The legislators have nothing to do in terms of allowing Ørsted or U.S. Wind to do what they are doing,” she said. “It’s all done with Maryland but we’re going to have the impact along our shores.”

“The legislators have nothing to do in terms of allowing Ørsted or U.S. Wind to do what they are doing, It’s all done with Maryland but we’re going to have the impact along our shores.”
Fenwick Island mayor Vicki Carmean

Carmean blames the Biden administration for encouraging offshore wind in pursuit of its climate goals, and has little confidence she will be able to stop a project she says will ruin the ocean views from her quiet beach community.

“It will turn a vacation area into an industrial center. These wind turbines will be dotting the horizon. We like being close to nature, we don’t want to look at wind turbines,” she said.

Carmean accused Ørsted of seeking to build public support for its project by donating to local nonprofits including the Center for the Inland Bays – which recently received a $50,000 gift from the company. She said it is operating a “pay to play” culture.

In Lewes, Mayor Ted Becker and six other mayors representing the Association of Coastal Towns wrote to Gov. Carney expressing their concern that the coming wind farm would damage their economies.

Becker said he and the other mayors are frustrated that they appear to have little influence over a project that will mostly benefit Maryland. “It’s a very big frustration that Maryland is going to benefit from so much of this, and Delaware has kind of been left out,” he said.

But he’s not too concerned that the Skipjack wind farm will affect the ocean view from the Lewes beaches because they are at the northern end of the project, and so the turbines will not be as visible as they might be from towns such as Bethany Beach further south.

Becker said he visited Montauk, Long Island, to view the Block Island wind farm nearby and was barely able to see its turbines about 15 miles away on a clear day, even from the top of the lighthouse. But he noted that the giant turbines planned for the Skipjack project, which tower 853 feet above the water, are about twice the size of those at Block Island.

In Rehoboth Beach, city commissioner Edward Chrzanowski said he will be holding a series of public hearings at the environment committee he chairs with the aim of finding facts on offshore wind.

He said he was approached by Rick Meehan, mayor of Ocean City, MD, who was seeking support for his concern that the “viewshed” from his town would be hurt by the new wind farm. The environment committee has not responded to Meehan, Chrzanowski said, because it needs first to make its own determination on whether the wind farm will help or hinder the local economy.

“Because the wind farms are proposed on the Maryland coast, I don’t think a lot of Delawareans think that they can have a position or should have a position. My goal is just to bring some more public interest to it.”
Rehoboth Beach city commissioner Edward Chrzanowski

After the hearings, the panel will decide whether to ask the City of Rehoboth to ask state leaders to represent their views to the wind farm builders. Chrzanowski said the fact-finding sessions reflect his feeling that the public is not fully engaged in the wind farm issue.

“There has not been a whole of lot dialogue about it which is why these public meetings would be helpful,” he said. “Because the wind farms are proposed on the Maryland coast, I don’t think a lot of Delawareans think that they can have a position or should have a position. My goal is just to bring some more public interest to it.”

Meanwhile, a top official for Ørsted argued that it is fully engaged with officials and coastal communities as it advances its wind farm plans.

“We do engage at all levels,” said Brady Walker, Mid-Atlantic Market Manager for the Danish wind energy giant. “We are always available, and we will certainly ramp up that effort over the course of the next several months.”

He said the company expects to increase its contact with state officials and the public now that the second phase of Orsted’s Skipjack project has been approved by Maryland.

Walker called the State of Delaware “a really significant stakeholder” in discussions over where to bring ashore power from the new wind farm. “We’re exploring a number of options along the Delaware coast that would allow us to land a cable safely and then work our way to an interconnection site,” he said.

People will have ample opportunity to air their views on the project at upcoming public hearings on the second phase of the Skipjack project, due to be held by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Walker said.

He rejected accusations that Ørsted is currying favor with its donations to some local groups. He said the recent award to the Center for the Inland Bays will allow it to do environmental work that is consistent with the company’s sustainability goals.

“We support what they do because they are committed to being a steward of the environment, and we are as well,” he said.

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Jon has been reporting on environmental and other topics for Delaware Public Media since 2011. Stories range from sea-level rise and commercial composting to the rebuilding program at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the University of Delaware’s aborted data center plan.