Delaware should not rush into investing in utility-scale offshore wind projects, according to a memo from Gov. John Carney's offshore wind task force. Carney signed an executive order on Aug. 28 to create a committee charged with exploring how an offshore wind industry would benefit the state. There are no offshore wind projects currently planned in Delaware. However, regulators in neighboring Maryland have approved US Wind's 248-MW project and Deepwater Wind's 120-MW Skipjack Offshore Wind Project, both in federal waters off the coasts of northern Maryland and southern Delaware. Carney had stated publicly that developing clean energy would be good for the state's environment and economy.
The task force, though, suggested in its Dec. 15 report to the governor's office that Delaware should not move forward with immediate procurement of offshore wind from projects approved by another state. Instead, the state should wait for more developers to propose projects in the mid-Atlantic region or forgo offshore wind altogether to pursue other renewable energy sources.
Members of the task force included state Sens. David McBride and Harris McDowell, both Democrats; Republican Ronald Gray and Democrat Trey Paradee from Delaware's House of Representatives; and members of several state agencies, businesses and environmental groups. Bruce Burcat, the executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, chaired the task force.
The group also gave Carney a list of issues to consider, such as the cost to taxpayers of subsidies for new development and whether the state could benefit from an offshore wind industry without directly investing in a utility-scale project.
Since August, stakeholders across the state have weighed in on the benefits and downsides to offshore wind through public comments and two town hall meetings hosted by the task force. The submitted comments and the meetings show that residents, community groups and businesses are divided on the long-term effects of offshore wind development.
Residents with properties along Delaware's coast expressed concerns that building turbines on the water would decrease real estate values if too close to the shore. Tourism brought in $3.1 billion to the state in 2015, making up 5% of its GDP, according to the state Tourism Office. During a Nov. 27 public workshop Geoff Pohanka, a resident of Bethany Beach, Del., cited a North Carolina State University report that found vacationers along the North Carolina coast would not rent by the beach, or would demand discounts, if a utility-scale wind farm was built within view of their properties.
Other residents expressed concerns about how much their electric bills would go up. John Nichols, a resident of Middletown, Del., said the higher costs from offshore wind could not only drive up electricity prices, but also lead to substantial job losses and businesses leaving the state.
Bonnie Ram, a senior researcher at the University of Delaware's Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration, wrote in a public comment that the public has limited knowledge on offshore wind power and how it could benefit the state overall. She has found that most do not know how Maryland's potential offshore wind farms will affect Delaware's coastal communities.
"At this stage, the local citizens and businesses are still in the dark about these potential decisions that will impact their communities and their electricity system," she said, adding that the state should take advantage of the renewable energy resource. "Without stepping forward now with a purchase or an investment, [Delaware] could miss one of the biggest opportunities for economic development in the next decade."
Delaware has 5,876 MW of potential offshore wind capacity, according to the Department of Energy. Its current renewable portfolio standard requires utility providers to obtain a quarter of their electricity from renewable energy by 2025.