Wind farm may rise off Delaware shore

December 20, 2006|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN REPORTER

A New Jersey company is proposing to build about 200 wind turbines, each taller than the Statue of Liberty, in the Atlantic Ocean or Delaware Bay that would whirl within view of some of the region's most popular beaches.

Officials with Bluewater Wind of Hoboken hope their $1 billion offshore wind farm will be the first in U.S. waters.

Similar proposals are pending for wind farms off Cape Cod, Mass., and Long Island, N.Y., but they have drawn protests and lawsuits from homeowners who say their water views would be defiled by the towers.

In Delaware, the proposal has met with mixed reaction, with some people enthusiastic about the alternative energy source and others worried that the sight of the large turbines would disrupt the tourism industry in Bethany Beach or Rehoboth Beach.

"We will be offering offshore energy sources that will be pollution-free, emission-free and the price of fuel will be free, since it's the wind," said Jim Lanard, director of strategic planning for Bluewater.

The company plans to submit a proposal by Friday to Delmarva Power & Light to build the windmills in one of three locations: 10 miles east of Rehoboth Beach; seven miles east of Bethany Beach; or five miles northeast of Slaughter Beach, Lanard said.

The distance from shore would be far enough that the turbines would appear no more than half a thumbnail high if someone on the beach extended an arm and looked along it out to sea, Lanard said.

Delmarva Power & Light will study the proposal, along with other options for power generation, and decide which if any of the offshore sites the utility will recommend to the Delaware Public Service Commission, said Tim Brown, a spokesman for Delmarva Power.

The plans would then require the approval of several Delaware state agencies and the federal Department of the Interior.

John Schafler, manager of the 10,000-acre Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches along the shore between two of the proposed sites, said he strongly opposes the turbines.

Schafler said the wind turbines would disrupt a key habitat for horseshoe crabs and migrating birds such as the red knot, a threatened species.

"They're ugly," Schafler said of turbines, which he has seen in California. "I'm not a big fan of wind power, because of the industrial look, the bird-kill issues, the horseshoe crab disturbance issues."

Patti Shreeve, an artist and member of the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners, said she likes the idea of clean energy, but is concerned about ruining views from the beach.

"I'm entirely for environmentally sound sources of energy, but I am concerned about the view," she said. "There are also many species of birds that migrate along the coast from Canada to South America ... and that raises many questions for me."

Nicolette Nye, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service, said that consideration of Bluewater's project will have to wait until the agency writes rules on construction of offshore wind farms. That could take until September, she said.

"We have a moratorium on reviewing any applications for any future renewable [energy] sites until we have new regulations in place," Nye said.

More than 5,000 wind turbines across the United States generate less than 1 percent of the nation's energy supply. But more are being constructed all the time - about 1,200 were built last year, many in the Midwest - because they generate electricity without spewing pollution or global warming gases, said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

No offshore wind farms have been built in U.S. waters, but several are generating power in Europe, she said.

"We have really reached a turning point where wind is really a mainstream source of new power generation," she said. "It provides electricity at a stable price. And from the environmental point of view, it's a zero-emission form of electricity."

Maryland has approved three wind farms in its mountainous west, but none has been built. A proposal about seven years ago to build wind turbines off Ocean City was withdrawn when residents expressed concerns about ruining the Atlantic view.

It is unclear whether wind turbines off Bethany Beach could be seen from Ocean City, Lanard said. "They would look really, really small if they were visible," the Bluewater spokesman said.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said yesterday that he hadn't heard the new proposal but doubted that a wind farm would bother people on the beach.

"It doesn't appear to me that they will be visual pollution," Meehan said. "You'll see them, but they won't negate the ambience of being at the beach."

Strong opposition has flared in Massachusetts to a proposal to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, including from environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose family owns a summer home on Cape Cod.

"A number of the homeowners are concerned about the changes - not only visually, but that a 24-square-mile area of Nantucket Sound will become an industrial project," said Charles Vinick, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Bluewater is also studying the possibility of building turbines in the ocean off New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, and does not believe that they would disturb birds, boaters or beachcombers, Lanard said.

Bluewater Wind is owned by Arcadia Wind, which in 2004 built a wind farm in Judith Gap, Mont.

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