DAGSBORO – Opposition to a proposal that would bring millions of dollars in capital improvements to Fenwick Island State Park in exchange for the placement of an onshore interconnection facility dominated a public meeting this week.
Hundreds of people filled the auditorium at Indian River High School on Tuesday night as representatives from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and Orsted – a Danish offshore wind developer – presented plans for a project that, if approved, would allow the company to construct an onshore interconnection facility on roughly an acre of land at Fenwick Island State Park in exchange for millions of dollars in park improvements, including a nature center, pickleball courts, a pedestrian overpass and a parking garage.
“One of the things our park planner spent a lot of time on is they wanted to make the park safer, they wanted to make it more enjoyable and they tried to come up with the amenities that other parks offer in our system,” Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens said.
Orsted is one of the two companies holding permits for offshore wind energy farms off the coast. While its Skipjack project is considered a Maryland project, and went through the Maryland Public Service Commission for regulatory approval, Orsted must bring its transmission lines ashore to connect to the power grid. To that end, the company has targeted the Delaware state park as a future home for the interconnection facility.
Delaware State Parks has extended the deadline for online public comments through Dec. 2, and so far, the agency has received more than 1,000 responses.
But the public meeting, arranged by Senator Gerald Hocker and Representative Ron Gray, gave attendees another opportunity to share their concerns and receive answers to questions that have plagued the community since plans were first presented in early October.
Fenwick resident Janet Dudley-Eshbach said she supported efforts to explore sources of renewable energy, but opposed any development at the state park.
“These are our lands and proper stewardship is the responsibility of DNREC and Delaware’s elected officials,” she said. “The environmental and safety concerns of what’s being proposed make the project proposal completely unacceptable.”
Several in the audience also highlighted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Orsted and DNREC signed three months before the proposal was made public. Officials, however, stressed that the MOU is not a binding document, but rather the first step in bringing the partnership to the public.
“There has been no legally enforceable agreement signed between DNREC and Orsted,” DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said.
Attendees also questioned why a Maryland project connected to the power grid at the Delaware park.
“If you draw a straight line to the coast – which is what we first do when we look at how we are going to interconnect the wind farm to the PJM grid – you land directly in Delaware,” Orsted Development Manager Joy Weber explained, noting that Orsted had also explored other locations in Delaware before settling on Fenwick Island State Park.
Dagsboro resident Mary Peterson argued the Skipjack project would favor Maryland, as Orsted plans to bring more than $200 million in capital expenditures and $38 million in in-state port and fabrication facilities.
“That’s a lot of money,” she said. “Delaware is settling for $18 million?”
Those who supported the project, however, said the wind farm would benefit everyone.
“Clean air and clean water do not stop at the state line …,” one Rehoboth Beach resident said. “I think we need to look at the bigger picture here.”
Millsboro resident Tom Brett agreed.
“We’ve got to get on the board here,” he said. “Delaware isn’t even on the board as having a goal for renewable energy by wind sources.”
People questioned the impact the Skipjack project would have on property values, tourism, the environment and views.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan noted the 12-megawatt turbines being proposed for the Skipjack project would be three-and-a-half times the size of the tallest building in the resort.
“If these wind farms are constructed as proposed, the view off our shoreline to our horizon will be changed forever …,” he said. “I don’t want to be the mayor that has everybody turn and look at me and say, ‘How did you let that happen?’”
Garvin said Delaware can prevent cables from coming ashore on state land, but has no authority over the permitting process in federal waters off the coast.
Weber said Orsted would have to “go back to the drawing board” if plans for an interconnection facility at Fenwick Island State Park are denied.