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Offshore Wind Power : A New Brand of Farm for Southern Delaware
Terrence Donald, William Friedman, Colin Smith, and Leanne Wharton
Imagine a future in which the United States is cut off from outside oil sources, and internal sources are depleted. The U.S’s dependency on oil would leave our nation in a difficult position, and it is likely that this image may some day become reality. In a scenario such as this, the American people would be left with few options regarding energy sources. The American public currently uses oil to power cars, buses and airplanes, heat homes and businesses, and run factories. In the instance of an oil shortage, these cars, buses, and airplanes would become stationary, homes would go without heat, and some factories would be forced to quit production altogether.
To prevent this from occurring, much time and money is being spent on the search for alternative energy sources. One source which has been found to be beneficial is that of offshore wind power. Offshore turbines have been the topic of much discussion worldwide, and in some parts of the world, have been built and used successfully. Onshore wind farms are already in use in the United States; although offshore farms are in place in Europe, our country has not yet jumped on the offshore wind farm bandwagon.
The discussion of wind power has recently been brought to our state, with wind power proponents pushing to bring a new brand of farm to Southern Delaware: an offshore wind farm. As can be expected, Delaware residents and legislators have mixed feelings about this project. Although it faces some opposition, offshore wind power will be a positive attribute to our state, because it will stabilize energy prices and decrease pollution while providing Southern Delaware residents with a clean, renewable energy resource.
Wind Power Background
First Persia Windmill, used to pump water (from Ecofuture)
The idea of using the wind as a method of energy and propulsion is not a relatively new idea. People have been using the wind as a form of energy since ancient times. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the first instances of using the wind as a form of energy were for transportation. Wind power as energy began “five thousand years ago, the Egyptians began to use the energy of the wind to sail their ships down the Nile river" (Wind Power). In their article "Wind Power," the EIA explains that after our ancestors realized that the wind was a good energy source, more ideas of how to capture the wind's power were contemplated. As a result a large structure, the windmill, was created in Persia, and later improved upon by the people of Holland.
Eventually, the EIA states, the idea of using large windmills to produce energy made its way to other parts of the world. America was one of the many places that adopted the idea of windmills and improved upon it. The article explains that in our country, they were mainly used to more effectively “grind wheat and corn, to pump water, and to cut wood at saw mills” (Wind Energy). The EIA states that it was not until later that the idea of using the windmills to produce electricity was realized. This idea began “around the 1920’s was when the windmill began to be used to transport electricity to areas that did not have electric service.” However, the article states, the practice of using windmills to produce electricity was not widely accepted at that time; rather, the practice was temporarily discontinued in order to make way for other methods such as electrical power plants (Wind Energy).
In "Wind Energy, " the Energy Information Administration explains that during the 1970’s, when the oil shortage in America began, the idea of using windmills to produce electricity was re-evaluated. Different parts of the country, including California, began to look into alternative ways of producing energy. According to the EIA, in California onshore wind farms were built in order to create energy without harming the environment. California was attempting to counteract the effects on the environment caused by the increasing amount of people and cars in the area. This state became the pioneer of onshore wind energy in America and today “California still produces more than twice as much wind energy as any other state” (Wind Energy).
America is not the first nation attempting to use offshore wind turbines as a source of energy. In fact, our country is behind the offshore wind power trend. According to Kimberly Taber in "Eastern Europe Gears up to Reap More Power from Wind," many European countries such as Germany, Spain, and Denmark have been leaders in the advancement of wind power. Taber continues by explaining that because the projects in these countries have proven to be successful, other nations including, but not limited to, the United States have begun to take notice. Taber states that the European Union examined their greenhouse gas emissions, decided that they were too high, and chose to be proactive about this situation. “When the European Union committed in March to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by [twenty] percent by the year 2020, it also agreed that a fifth of its energy would come from renewable sources like wind and solar power” (Taber 1). To date, Eastern Europe has been using very little wind power, unlike surrounding countries. Taber explains that in order to help lower their greenhouse gas emissions, these countries plan to incorporate larger amounts of wind turbines. The percentage of Eastern European energy coming from wind will increase significantly. Right now, only about three percent of energy in Europe is coming from wind power and the European Wind Energy Association is planning on having that number increase to sixteen percent by the year 2020 in order to cut down on the continent's greenhouse gas emissions. Western European offshore wind farms have proven to be impressively successful, and other countries, including the United States, have taken notice and decided to follow suit (Taber 1).
The Delaware Project
Simulation of how a wind farm would appear approximately six miles from the shore (from "Survey Shows Strong Support for Offshore Wind Power
In recent months, proposed Delmarva Power energy cost increases have left the state of Delaware searching for an alternative energy source, says one reporter from
Delaware State News
. According to Kate House-Layton, after the energy company announced a projected fifty-nine percent cost inflation in 2005, the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation requiring that the company secure a contract with a new power source, one which could provide energy to Delaware and guarantee price stability. In her aticle "Power Sourcein the Wind? Proponents Hail Offshore Turbines as Energy Source, " she tells her readers that Bluewater Wind was one of three companies who entered bids for a long-term energy contract with the area’s largest power company. The company proposed two possible two hundred-turbine wind farms approximately six miles off of Delaware’s coast in the Atlantic Ocean or the Delaware Bay, with views from either Rehoboth or Bethany Beaches. She continues to explain that these turbines will provide electricity to one hundred and thirty thousand Delaware homes (House-Layton).
The Bluewater Wind proposal was challenged by two other proposals, one by New Jersey based NRG and one by Conectiv Energy. NRG’s plans involved a coal-to-gas “gasification” plant, and Conectiv proposed a power plant (House-Layton). According to Elizabeth Shogren, Delaware citizens generally supported the wind proposal. In Shogren's article, a representative from Bluewater Wind credits support of the proposal to friendliness to the environment as well as stabilized energy prices. Shrogen continues, explaining that some concerns were raised by Delawareans regarding the aesthetics of the project. In Shrogen's article, founder and president of Bluewater Wind Peter Mandelstam comments, "From this beach you'll see, just faintly on the horizon, half the size of your thumbnail, and thinner than a toothpick, a few little poles. And that's the wind farm. All 600 megawatts of it" (qtd. in Shrogen). Despite some concerns, citizens overwhelmingly prefer slight obstructions to the overwhelming benefits of offshore wind farms. Phil Cherry of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control expresses his preference of clean energy over aesthetics in Kate House-Layton's article, “I happen to find them attractive, because I can look at them and know they’re putting out electricity and know they’re not putting out pollution" (qtd. in House-Layton). A survey of Delawareans, in which eighty percent claimed to support the offshore wind farm proposal and only four percent were against the project, proved that citizens share Cherry's sentiments (Shogren). Many hope that Delaware will continue its tradition of being “first” and become the home to America’s first offshore wind farm.
The dream of offshore wind power in Delaware is well on its way to becoming reality. On Bluewater Wind's website, the company's timeline of the Delaware project states that a contract was awarded to the company in the spring and summer of 2007. According to the company, a Power Purchase Agreement has been signed and finalized by both Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power (Bluewater Wind). The company continues with a brief timeline of the steps it will take in the construction of an offshore wind farm, which is estimated to be completed in two and a half to six years. Engineering and environment studies, as well as permitting, will take approximately one to two years. Final designs and engineering will last another six to twelve months, and construction and installation is estimated to take one to three years (Bluewater Wind).
Points of the Opposition
As can be expected, some Delaware citizens are concerned about the offshore wind farm proposal. The same sort of opposition has been seen in other offshore wind proposals, particularly in a 2001 proposal in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. According to "Deeply Held Beliefs Fueling Public Debate Over Offshore Wind Power in the U.S.," in 2003 two professors from the University of Delaware's College of Marine Studies, Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton, completed a study of Cape Cod residents and their reaction to their offshore wind proposal. In the article, Willett Kempton states,
"In terms of the opposition, the most emotionally felt argument, and we suspect the most motivating one against the project, is that it would intrude on a very special place and the creatures that live there[...]Similar findings have been made about the importance of the landscape in land-based wind projects[...]Our data suggest that these feelings also relate to the seascape. There appears to be something special about the ocean, a feeling that for many people underpins their opposition to the project"
(qtd. in Bryant).
Some of the opposition's points include the project costs and aesthetics, the unreliability of wind, and threats to the bird population.
In Shrogen's article "Offshore Wind Proposal Gains Fans in Delaware," the writer discusses the fact that even Delmarva Power thinks that the project is too expensive, and that it would be cheaper to buy electricity from neighboring states than to build an offshore wind farm. Delmarva Power president Gary Stockbridge comments, saying "Our recommendation around these three bidders is to not accept any of them[...]We've evaluated them and found that they're all more costly than the market place" (qtd. in Shrogen). However, an offshore wind farm in Delaware would guarantee energy price stability, and could cause related industries to thrive in the state. In House-Layton's article, the writer states that such "spin-off industries" could include energy sales to neighboring states, as well as wind turbine production facilities and related businesses (House-Layton).
Another concern posed by the opposition is that the wind is too unreliable to use as an energy source. One NRG vice president, Caroline Angoorly, says in Shrogen's article, "It is an intermittent resource and so it's only going to provide electricity when the wind blows" (qtd. in Shrogen). However, according to Aaron Nathans, Delmarva Power plans to use one of the other two proposals as a backup to the wind power farm (Nathans). This would allow the offshore wind farm to serve as a source most of the time, and the backup would be used whenever the wind does not blow.
The most intense of all opposition anxieties are regarding to the project's aesthetics. Simply put, residents do not want beach views to be obstructed. South Bethany Town Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson is one of these residents. In Smith's article "Bluewater Wants to Bring First Offshore Wind Farm to Delaware," the councilwoman states, "I am also against having them really close to the shore so that it marks a pristine view[...]there are a lot of problems that need to be worked out first" (qtd. in Smith). In the same article, Bluewater Wind's Delaware Project Coordinator Jim Lanard assures residents that views will not be significantly altered. At a distance of 6.6 miles from the coast, turbines would not be seen on a foggy day. On clear days in the winter, the turbines would appear to be about as tall as half of a human thumbnail, and turbine blades would seem to be as thin as toothpicks (cited in Smith).
The most major environmental concerns of an offshore wind farm in Delaware is the effects on the avian population. When asked about the environmental impacts of an offshore wind farm, Dr. Firestone stated, "The main environmental concern is with avian impacts...there have been some onshore wind farms that are problematic for birds...and bats." According to the professor, onshore wind farms have proven harmful to birds because the blades of older turbine models spin faster and are spaced closer together (Firestone). This fact has fueled concern from Delaware bird lovers.
At a Septermber 6, 2006 luncheon, former CEO of Superior Renewable Energy John Calaway spoke about the impact of offshore wind turbines on the avian population:
Mr. Calaway mentions other sources of aviation death in this video, including cell phone towers, transmission lights, hunters, and domestic cats ("Impact of Wind Turbines on Birds"). The former CEO is absolutely correct, and his position is supported by scholar Bjorn Lomborg, "In the United States, onshore and near-shore turbines kill 70,000 birds per year, compared to 57 million killed by cars and 97.5 million killed by collisions with plate glass". Furthermore, The United Kingdom's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) concluded that appropriately placed wind farms do not pose a significant threat to birds (Lomborg). In his interview, Dr. Firestone explained that, due to the concerns of Delawareans for the avian population, one proposed farm site in the Delaware Bay site has been scrapped by Bluewater Wind. The site is an important stop among the migratory paths of several species of birds, particularly the red knot. He continued, stating that "the most definitive offshore study in Denmark, found very low avian mortality, which is encouraging, although it is important to do site-specific studies" and that avian population issues can be resolved by adjusting the timing of turbine installation. According to Firestone, besides the avian population, “wind power, but specifically off shore wind power is safe in many other areas as well" (Firestone).
High Output, Optimum Design
Although the opposition has many valid arguements against this project, the advantages of offshore wind power in Delaware greatly outweigh any of these 'cons.' One advantage of offshore wind power is the high output and optimum design of wind turbines. According to Spera, despite the fact that turbines do not employ our typical energy source, fossil fuels, these machines have impressibly large output. In his book
Wind Turbine Technology
, he explains that since the late 1940’s, many nations have produced very impressive wind turbine designs. These designs enable modern machines to produce very large amounts of wind power, even with very low wind speeds (Spera 74). Spera continues, explaining that some of the strongest examples of wind turbine designs have come from France. The company began to develop some of the more advanced wind turbines between1958-1964. One of the earlier turbines, called the Type Best Romani, was built in Paris. “Its three bladed rotors had a diameter of [thirty meters] and the system rating was [eight hundred kilowatts] at a wind speed of [sixteen meters per second]” (Spera 74). In short, these wind turbines produce enormous amounts of power, even when wind speeds are less than desirable. These designs particularly benefit the future of offshore wind power, due to the fact that they do not require gale-force winds in order to operate, because they make it possible for offshore wind farms to be installed in more locations with low wind speeds. Due to the phenomenal design of wind turbines, nations all over the world can benefit from the high output capabilities of offshore wind turbines.
Energy Alternative: Safer Than The Rest
Unlike other energy resources such as nuclear or the burning of fossil fuels, wind energy is a safe energy alternative that does not harm humans or the environment. Currently, the most popular energy resource is the burning of fossil fuels. According to Sea-US Incorporated's website, the burning of these gases causes acid rain, unhealthy smog, and contributes to the greenhouse gas effect. The site goes on to state that, these effects take a deadly toll on human beings and their environment. Acid rain kills forests, weakens buildings as well as other structures, and harms fish if the concentration is high enough (Alternative, Safe and Sustainable Sources of Energy). Similarly, the human population can be harmed by polluted air otherwise known as smog. These concerns are alleviated by the installation of offshore wind farms because no engines, exhaust systems or any pollution creating devices are used. In an interview with, Dr. Firestone, a professor at the University of Delaware's college of Marine Sciences, he emphasized that the only air pollution resulting from the offshore wind farm in Delaware will be emissions from boats going back and forth to the wind farms for maintenance (Firestone).
However, the largest of all issues related to the bringing of fossil fuels is contributions to the natural greenhouse gas effect. According to Sea-US's website, more and more of the sun’s energy is being trapped within the atmosphere, causing the Earth to warm (Alternative, Safe and Sustainable Sources of Energy). Warmer temperatures will cause ice caps to melt, raising water levels. This is particularly bad for Delaware, since it is a low lying coastal state. In the instance of melted ice caps and raised sea levels, our state will literally transform from an above water landmass to the ocean floor. Offshore wind power does not contribute negatively to the greenhouse gas effect, and can lower the risk of rising sea levels if it replaces or reduces the burning of fossil fuels.
Nuclear energy is among the most dangerous of all energy resources. Besides the hazards of nuclear waste disposal and nuclear gas emissions, a nuclear breakdown is devastating to a population. For example, in 1986 a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl suffered a major core breakdown, causing injury, death, and spreading radioactive waste all over a large area. Chernobyl still has traces of this waste today, twenty-one years after the breakdown (20 Years After Chernobyl). Obviously, offshore wind farms pose no such risk because they do not use nuclear energy in any way. Wind power is a safer energy alternative than other choices our society has to choose from and can help protect Delaware from modern-day environmental hazards.
The primary concern of Delaware citizens and legislators, as well as Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind, regarding this project is energy inflation control. According to Kate House-Layton of Delaware State News, Delmarva Power's announced increase in energy cost in 2005 prompted the Delaware legislature to take action and demand that the company find an alternative source of energy within the state (House-Layton). Jim Lanard of Bluewater Wind argues that offshore wind power can solve this problem in Sara Smith's article "Bluewater Wants to Bring First Offshore Wind Farm to Delaware." Lanard says that "the utility of wind, of course, is that once it's built, it's free forever[...]Delmarva Power wants a proposal that guarantees price stability. On day one, we'll know what the price is 20 years later because the price of fuel [wind] has remained the same: Free" (qtd. in Smith). Although it will cost millions, maybe even billions of dollars to build the windmills, wind will always be free (Smith). This is not true for fossil fuels. As is apparent from rising prices at the gas pump, fossil fuel prices quickly vary, and are dependent upon many issues such as refinery space and world issues. While it is possible to know the cost of wind years in advance, it is simply impossible to do the same with fossil fuels. Delmarva Power customers, with the new wind farm in place, will be able to anticipate the price of each energy bill, given that energy inflation will be eliminated.
Despite some opposition, the Delaware Wind Proposal is well on its way to becoming the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The advantages of this project are endless. Southern Delaware citizens will greatly benefit from the development of a wind farm off of our state's coast, while helping prevent an oil crisis in the future. These residents will profit from a renewable resource with high output, low maintenance and no inflation. At the same time, their actions will make U.S. Energy history. Our state will be one of the first to alleviate the burden of oil shortages, and begin our country's transition to use of cleaner, less costly energy sources. With the resource of offshore wind power at our disposal, Delaware will be taking a major step in the direction of avoiding permanently parked cars, frigid homes, and obsolete factories. And the benefits of being able to live comfortably for less money and with less of an environmental impact will far outweigh any 'cons' of the Delaware offshore wind project.
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