DAGSBORO – An update on two offshore wind projects and presentations from local and national representatives highlighted the Fenwick Island Environmental Committee’s first Offshore Wind Symposium.
Last Friday, the Fenwick Island committee hosted its Offshore Wind Symposium at Indian River High School. With representatives present from US Wind and Ørsted, and local mayors and national experts in attendance, emcee Janet Dudley-Eshbach said the goal of the event is to educate community members.
“The purpose of this forum is to inform us all about plans for wind energy projects off the Delaware and Maryland shorelines,” she said. “So we will hear from representatives from the wind farm companies, along with national experts on environmental policy and safety issues.”
Between November and February, environmental committee members met to review offshore wind studies and lawsuits, attend offshore wind presentations and consult with experts in the field of alternative energy to develop a position on offshore wind and the two projects proposed off the Delmarva coastline.
As a result of that research, committee members came before the Fenwick Island Town Council in March with a resolution asking federal agencies to update visualizations and radar studies to reflect the larger turbines being proposed for the two wind projects and to move offshore wind lease areas at least 30 miles offshore. In addition to adopting the resolution, the town council also voted to hold an Offshore Wind Symposium, held last Friday.
“The Fenwick Island Environmental Committee supports the use of clean, renewable energy as part of a comprehensive plan to address climate change and U.S. energy needs,” event co-chair Colleen Wilson said earlier this month. “We are seeking support to ensure wind turbine sites are considered responsibly and sensibly in a way that protects our regional marine and migratory bird life, local fishing industry and numerous natural resources, as well as marine safety, and unobstructed viewshed.”
In 2017, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved offshore renewable energy credits for two projects – US Wind’s MarWin project and Ørsted’s Skipjack project – situated in an 80,000-acre Wind Energy Area off the coast. While those projects are currently working through the federal review process with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the two companies have already applied for additional energy credits to complete second phases.
Presenting at last week’s symposium, US Wind’s Mike Dunmyer said 76 turbines would be constructed as part of the company’s two projects.
“We’ve won awards sufficient to develop almost 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind energy. That’s enough to power 380,000 homes, and we can do this with 76 turbines and three offshore substations …,” he said. “With that array, the closest turbine to Fenwick Island is about 15 miles away, with over half the turbines beyond 19 miles.”
Dunmyer noted US Wind was currently on its Construction and Operations Plan, or COP, phase, which defines every aspect of its wind project, from design to deconstruction. And if approved by BOEM, plans for the offshore wind project would be made available to the public.
“The second thing that happens is it kicks off the next stage of the project, which is a two-year public process, where those plans will be assessed against every federal environmental law that exists …,” he said. “Assuming all goes well, and we are able to meet or exceed all those requirements, BOEM would ultimately grant us permission to begin construction sometime in 2024. We would expect the first 300 megawatts to come online in 2025, with the rest coming online in 2026.”
Ørsted’s Brady Walker noted his company’s Skipjack 1 and Skipjack 2 phases would be designed and constructed as one combined project. In total, the project is expected to generate nearly 1,000 megawatts.
“Together, they will power nearly 300,000 homes in the Delmarva region, and they are expected to come online at the end of 2026,” he said.
Walker added that the project would be site anywhere between 13 miles and 21 miles offshore.
“The borders of the lease area are not necessarily indicative of where an offshore wind turbine will be placed …,” he said. “We have agreed to setbacks against this westernmost border for safety reasons and in consultation with the U.S. Coast Guard and marine users.”
Both presenters added their respective projects would not only provide environmental benefits, but well-paying, sustainable jobs. Walker also highlighted Ørsted’s establishment of a training center for offshore wind technicians.
“The kinds of jobs these workforce development centers produce are highly skilled, highly paid jobs, and they are permanent positions …,” he said. “There’s enormous potential for this industry, and Delaware stands to gain substantially from it.”
Dunmyer agreed, also pointing out the need to address environmental issues such as sea level rise and flooding.
“What we do today, the decisions we make now, will literally shape the Sussex County that we leave to our children and grandchildren, and one of the most impactful things we can do is transition to renewable energy as much as possible,” he said. “The renewable energy resource we have available to us here is offshore wind, strong consistent offshore wind.”
While he said he supported offshore wind projects and the potential investments they could bring to the area, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he was most concerned about the impacts wind turbines would have on the resort’s viewshed.
“I want something to be clear from the very beginning,” he said. “We have consistently stated and have been very clear about the fact that the Town of Ocean City supports clean energy and the promised investment by both companies in the state of Maryland and the state of Delaware, and I think the things they presented tonight would certainly be good for our areas. But we do not want to see this happen at the expense of our town, Ocean City, Maryland.”
Meehan pointed to the millions of people who visit, reside and own property in Maryland’s only coastal resort. And while he has expressed his concerns over the turbines and their proximity to Ocean City, he said nothing has been done.
“I stated we only get one chance to make this right, and this is our chance, and unfortunately my plea fell on deaf ears …,” he said. “The size of the turbines has grown from a 6-megawatt turbine to a 14-megawatt turbine, which is now over 850 feet tall. Yet at the same time, the distance from our shoreline has remained the same.”
Meehan argued that, if constructed, the proposed wind turbines would be the tallest structures in the state. He urged companies to build their projects farther off the coast, as it had been done in other states.
“The sunrise will be changed forever, and it will look like a backdrop from Star Wars,” he said. “Future generations and our grandchildren … will never know what this pristine view will look like, or that it ever existed.”
City Manager Terry McGean pointed to other concerns relating to the federal review process, job creation, turbine placement and project landfall. City officials noted that neither company has announced plans for interconnection facilities along the coast.
“We can do better,” McGean said.
In last week’s presentation, Dunmyer said the plan is to make landfall and connect to the grid somewhere in Sussex County.
“The thing to remember about that is our cables will be buried all the way from where they begin at the offshore wind area to where they will ultimately connect at an existing inland substation,” he said.
Walker added that those decisions would ultimately be decided in the federal review process.
“BOEM will ultimately select the most appropriate landfall cable route and interconnection options, and we would need to build a project according to their guidance,” he said.
Last week’s symposium also featured presentations by national and regional experts in the areas of commercial fishing and marine education on the impacts wind turbines and cables would have on marine animals and navigation.
The event also featured a brief question-and-answer period. Officials noted a recording of the entire presentation, as well as answers to the audience’s questions, will be posted on the Town of Fenwick Island’s website.