Offshore wind farm raises economic, environmental issues

Critics say turbines threaten tourism, horseshoe crabs
October 29, 2019

Story Location:
Fenwick Island State Park
Fenwick Island, DE 19944
United States

Citing recent studies reporting economic effects of wind energy on tourism, the Caesar Rodney Institute has sent a letter to Gov. John Carney asking him to delay action on a proposed wind farm connection in Fenwick Island State Park.

Submitted Oct. 15 by David Stevenson, director Caesar Rodney Institute Center for Energy Competitiveness, the letter urges the governor to wait until Delaware’s resort towns have thoroughly reviewed the impact of wind turbines from the proposed Skipjack Wind farm.

“Up till now, Delaware beach town have had no say,” said Stevenson. “Please slow this project down.”

A little over two years ago, Maryland Public Service Commission awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits to two projects.

One of those projects, Skipjack Wind farm, is less than 20 miles due east of Delaware’s coastline. The company building the project, Ørsted, recently introduced a proposal to connect the 15-turbine wind farm to the power grid by building a facility on the Little Assawoman Bay side of Fenwick Island State Park.

In return for being allowed to build its connection facility, Ørsted has proposed funding roughly $18 million in improvements to the state park. As proposed, improvements would include a two-story parking structure, a Route 1 pedestrian crossover connecting bay and ocean beaches, an outdoor amphitheater, housing for lifeguards, a new park bathhouse, a new building for the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce and an overall improvement in roadway infrastructure. According to drawings prepared by Ørsted, the connection facility would be taller than the tree line and approximately one acre in size.

Stevenson says among the studies indicating the possible loss to tourism revenue was one by University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment professors Jeremy Firestone and George Parsons for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. This study, published in 2018, shows that 15 to 35 percent of tourists could stop coming to Delaware because the view has degenerated.

However, the study also found the wind farm will also generate tourism.

“In summary, the stated preference survey suggests that an offshore wind power project would affect many beachgoers’ experience/enjoyment on beach trips, change trip behavior, and generate curiosity trips,” reads the report. “At BOEM-relevant distances, the negatives are largely washed out by trip gain and curiosity trips, which, in many instances result in a net positive gain. This is likely to be more pronounced on smaller beaches.”

In an email Oct. 16, Firestone said there are also other factors to consider. The turbines will be much taller than the ones used for the study, but there will only be about half as many, and they will be spaced much farther apart, he said.

“How the public makes that tradeoff I cannot say,” he said. “It is also important to recognize that the study looked at one-off projects. If projects are built up and down the East Coast, one might see less intention to switch beaches.”

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said he does not see the harm in creating offshore natural alternative energy if it can get usage further away from fossil fuels. In an email Oct. 16, he questioned claims that tourists’ views will be hindered because of the turbines.

“If they are 15-25 miles offshore, does it really block the view?” he asked.

Kuhns said opinions are all over the place.

“I have read many comments that point to the possible addition of tourism versus tourism slipping away,” he said. “Some fishermen are looking forward to them because they create areas where fish gather. Let's see how it goes with the first few.”

Save the horseshoe crab

The impact on tourism is not the only reason some people are against the proposed Skipjack Wind farm. Recently a Facebook group called Save The Horseshoe Crab was created to raise awareness that the proposed wind farm would be built in the winter hibernation grounds of horseshoe crabs. The stated mission of the group is to have Ørsted amend its proposed location of 18 miles off the coast of Delaware to 30 miles offshore, out to the outer edge of the established reserve protected waters.

“To build a wind turbine farm in the center of this area is comparable to building in one of our other dedicated preserves such as Yellowstone National Park,” reads an Oct. 21 post.

The Skipjack Wind farm would be built in the middle of the Carl N. Shuster Jr. Horseshoe Crab Reserve, a designated protected sanctuary for maintaining the population of the American horseshoe crab. The preserve covers a large area along the Delaware coast and extends out 30 nautical miles.

“Drilling and excavating the sea bed for anchoring of the huge bases to support the wind turbines will result in loss of life of thousands of horseshoe crabs far more than commercial harvesting activity. This protected sanctuary must not be disturbed in any way that will result in loss of numbers of crabs existing in the area,” said a post.

DNREC taking public comment until Nov. 3

Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens said Oct. 23 that DNREC is taking public comments on the proposed Fenwick Island connection site until Sunday, Nov. 3. He said they’ve already received comments from about 300 people.

Bivens said a decision on the Ørsted proposal has not been fast-tracked. He said once all the public comments have been collected, the parks department will review them, separate them into issue-related categories and then present them to DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who, Bivens said, at this point hasn’t seen any of the comments.

Bivens said he’s been asked multiple times about how the proposal relates to the state’s Coastal Zone Act. He said Ørsted has submitted no permit requests, but their proposal is for a transmission interconnection site, and not a power generation site, which he said would mean it would not need a permit under the Coastal Zone Act.

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