Offshore wind is forward thinking

July 2, 2024

My family's ties to Fenwick Island date to the 1940s. My grandfather was one of the early mayors. He brokered purchase of the property for town hall in the 1950s. He helped to bring streetlights and public water to residents. 

Granddad couldn’t predict the future, but he looked ever forward. He helped shape a place where our family and many others have made some of their most cherished memories. I am grateful to be able to relive those memories with my children.

As I look forward, it would be easy to see a future without Fenwick. With projections showing 2 to 5 feet of sea-level rise by 2100, our narrow spit of sand and marsh could be engulfed by the ocean before we can protect it. 

Yet I feel hope. We can slow sea-level rise by shifting to clean, renewable energy technologies. Among them, nothing has more potential to meet Delaware's energy needs than offshore wind.

Some folks worry about impacts to the environment, property values, the economy and more. That’s natural and understandable. Change can be uncomfortable. 

But as Delaware Nature Society’s advocate for good environmental policy, I know this to be true: Wind can provide greater benefit than any other offshore energy activity. It is also the least damaging.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management uses the best available science to identify wind energy areas outside the migration routes of birds and marine wildlife. Construction is halted during migration and calving seasons for marine mammals. Crews maintain lookouts. If a whale is sighted, construction is stopped until the animal passes. 

State-of-the-art construction technologies minimize sound and other temporary disruptions to wildlife and the environment. And over time, the foundations of turbines become reefs that host all sorts of life. Where offshore wind is established, it actually enhances the fishery.

Offshore drilling for oil, in contrast, poses potentially irreversible harm. The sites are identified where the oil is, with minimal consideration of migration routes or sensitive underwater features such as coral reefs. Construction and operation are louder and more damaging than installation of wind turbines.

Discharge of pollutants, drilling waste and accidental oil spills significantly jeopardize marine biodiversity, disrupt and destroy habitats, and introduce toxins that spread throughout the marine ecosystem from the bottom up, from the plankton to the whales that depend on them as food – and to the fish we enjoy eating. 

Burning that oil to fuel transportation and produce energy pollutes our air and diminishes human health. Air quality in Delaware is among the worst in the nation – even in Sussex County. The exhaust and heat of burning oil and other fossil fuels is absorbed by the ocean, which acidifies, warms, expands and swells with water from melting glaciers and ice caps. That dynamic drives storms, flooding and sea-level rise.

And that is by far the greatest threat to property values, tourism and the economy. 

We can't afford to replenish beaches forever, nor will replenishment be effective when we hit a certain level of rise. The cost of armoring the shore, if that were a viable option, would be prohibitive, not to mention disruptive to beach lovers and extremely damaging to wildlife.

We could continue to adapt by raising roadways like Route 54, but that would also be expensive and disruptive. And as private insurers pull out of risky markets, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is rethinking its flood insurance program. The value of a property that can't be insured is practically zero. 

We choose to vacation or live at the beach because it helps us live in the moment. Visitors and retirees, freed from the everyday cares of the working world, relax with friends at favorite restaurants, shop the downtowns, stroll the boards, fish from the piers and truck beaches, kiteboard or sail when the wind blows, enjoy crab feasts with their families. Others run their businesses, keep the towns safe and efficient or, now, work virtually from their homes. We love a unique lifestyle born of a special place. Protecting that means setting the moment aside and looking forward. 

We can’t see the future, but we know some of what it will bring. Slowing sea-level rise takes global effort. Delaware can’t save the world, but it can and should do its part.

I hope we choose a future that brings offshore wind – a future that will prolong the life of our beaches so all of us, including my children and theirs, can continue to share their love of Fenwick.

Mark Nardone is director of advocacy at the Delaware Nature Society and a lifelong lover of Fenwick Island. 
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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