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East Coast is Saudi Arabia of wind power

In Rehoboth, offshore wind experts share information, gather feedback
July 19, 2018

Story Location:
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

It’s been about 18 months since five wind turbines off Block Island, R.I., began providing the small Atlantic Ocean island all its power.

During a Focus on the Coast seminar June 27, Jen McCann said those turbines are just the beginning, pointing to at least three developers interested in building wind farms off Rhode Island’s coast in the next 10 years. There’s a lot of wind, and the continental shelf allows for fairly shallow construction.

“The northeast is the Saudi Arabia of wind,” said McCann, director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant extension program and U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography.

The Focus on the Coast seminar series is designed to provide science-based information for local decision-makers and to garner greater insight into community concerns. Sponsored by the Center for Carbon Free Power Integration and Delaware Sea Grant at the University of Delaware, the event was held at Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.

A little more than a year ago, Maryland’s Public Service Commission announced it had awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits to two projects. The larger of the two, U.S. Wind Inc., is expected to be located 12 to 15 nautical miles off the coast of Ocean City, and calls for 62 turbines expected to produce 248 megawatts a year. The estimated construction cost is $1.4 billion; it could be in operation by January 2020.

The second project, Skipjack Offshore Energy, is off Delaware’s coastline and operated by Deepwater Wind, which built the Block Island project. The Maryland commission approved a 15-turbine, 120-megawatt-producing wind farm.

Having gone through the Block Island process, McCann came to Rehoboth to offer guidance. She talked of watermen displaced during construction; the creation of areas of mutual interest and areas designated for preservation; and funding to promote marketing of commercial and charter fishing.

McCann said research related to large marine animals is still needed because in Europe, where most research is coming from, there are no large marine animals.

Bonnie Ram, a senior researcher for the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, & Environment, was one of the forum organizers. She said Delaware is geographically located in the middle of the future East Coast market.

“Nobody knows where the turbines are going to be built right now,” she said.

Addressing concerns over more cables running from the ocean to shore, Ram said there have been telecommunication cables running on ocean floors since the 19th century. It would just be the latest event in an already busy ocean, she said.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he supports clean energy, but he doesn’t want the proposed turbines so close to the city. He was standing next to horizontal images of how visible turbines appear on the horizon at various mileages off the coast. He was holding a picture of an Ocean City sunrise, the large trunk and blades of the proposed turbines clearly silhouetted. The pictures up here, he said, pointing to the renderings, are taken shown with a lot of sun so the turbines aren’t as visible.

Meehan said one of the main issues is the size of the proposed turbines. In other industries, as technology improves, machines get smaller, while in this industry there’s no limit on size, he said.

“These new 8-megawatt turbines are 120 feet taller than the tallest high-rise in Ocean City,” he said.

Meegan said he’s just asking for consistency with how far off the coast the turbines can be constructed. In other places, including Virginia Beach, the turbines are proposed for 26 miles offshore, he said.

The second part of the series continues Thursday, July 12, at Bethany Ocean Suites, 99 Hollywood St., Bethany Beach. Registration begins at 8 a.m. The event is expected to wrap up by noon. For more information, contact Delaware Sea Grant’s Jamē McCray at 302-645-4250 or jmccray@udel.edu.