Why wind turbines need to be farther offshore

December 24, 2020

Given a choice, eight out of 10 people surveyed in the Delaware beach community prefer a proposed offshore wind project be moved farther offshore.  They also prefer power lines from the projects not come ashore in a Delaware state park.

Our survey of 35,000 property owners within three miles of the beach showed 85 percent opposed to visible turbines. Responses to a state park survey on how to spend some money in Fenwick Island State Park didn’t ask about opposition to the wind project.  However, over 700 people gave an opinion in the comments section and 80 percent of those opinions were opposed. Incidentally, we had to make a Freedom of Information Act request to the state to get the state park survey results. The state used the pandemic as an excuse to delay the release of the survey results, which suddenly were sent the day after the developer dropped the request to use the park in Fenwick Island as the pandemic continued.

For an explanation of why there is opposition, read on.

Opposition to the Skipjack wind project has been mischaracterized as opposing wind power in general.  That claim is simply not true. 

The purpose of the Save Our Beach View effort is to simply move the project farther offshore, and to bring the power ashore to existing power substations in Ocean City as originally intended instead of into a Delaware state park. However, many opponents have pointed out onshore wind, or solar power could be built for one-quarter the cost, and with lower overall environmental impact.

Opposition isn’t so much about the 10 turbine Skipjack project in the farthest reaches of the lease area.  It really is about the build out of up to 200 turbines extending as close as 12 miles from shore from Rehoboth Beach to Fenwick Island.  Under oath, the project developer disclosed they were already in negotiation with officials in Maryland and New Jersey to fill the lease area.  Once there is a place to plug into the grid for the first 10 turbines, the rest will follow.

The Skipjack project is totally a Maryland project to be located in federal waters off the coast of Delaware.   The project was approved by the Maryland legislature and utility commission, will be subsidized by Maryland electric customers, and was designed so any economic benefits accrue to Maryland.  

Delaware beach community property owners and resort towns were given no opportunity to comment.

Ocean City officials have refused to issue the permit to bring power ashore unless it is moved at least 33 miles offshore to protect their tourist industry.  A lease area off the Outer Banks in North Carolina was located much farther offshore to protect the view.  

Two university studies indicate some level of tourism will be lost if turbines are visible. The level of lost tourism is debatable, but why take a risk?  Once the skyscraper-size turbines are built there is no going back. Delaware’s $3 billion-a-year tourism industry is built around the beach, and the view is irrefutably a big part of the draw.  

This year we have seen the hardship of lost wages, and small business closures when people stop coming to the beach.  Lost tourism studies show a range of lost visitors of from 15 to 38 percent when adjusted for the much larger turbine size proposed for the Skipjack project.  Just a 1 percent loss over the 20-year contract period has a present economic value of $400 million.  In addition, both university studies specifically predict lower property values, but don’t compute the amount.

In addition, if the power comes ashore in Delaware, our electric customers may pay higher electric bills to cover potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in onshore electric grid improvements needed to move power into the regional grid, based on a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission study.  

The Skipjack project has faced the Ocean City objection since 2017. The Skipjack federal lease area exists because of a petition to create it.  It only took two years for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to approve and sell the leasing rights. Orsted could own a lease area farther out to sea by now if they started moving in that direction earlier. Orsted may claim the delay as a hardship, but why did they just pull back a request for federal approval to start construction for a project off Martha’s Vineyard that was days away from completion after three years of study?  Restarting the approval process could delay construction by a year or two.  

For the Delaware beach community, our only leverage over this project is to not allow power to come ashore in Delaware.  Join us in closing that door.

David T. Stevenson
Caesar Rodney Institute
Center for Energy & Environment
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