Delaware’s offshore wind impact

    Delaware is on track to become the first state with an offshore wind farm. Attempts in other states have foundered over environmental and aesthetic concerns. But residents and lawmakers in the first state have overwhelmingly supported wind energy — and local researchers predict a positive impact. From WHYY’s health and science desk Kerry Grens reports on their findings.

    Delaware is on track to become the first state with an offshore wind farm. Attempts in other states have foundered over environmental and aesthetic concerns. But residents and lawmakers in the first state have overwhelmingly supported wind energy — and local researchers predict a positive impact. From WHYY’s health and science desk Kerry Grens reports on their findings.

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    Transcript:

    Hundreds of researchers, energy representatives, and environmental advocates from around the country gathered in Wilmington earlier this week for an offshore wind workshop. The location is a nod to Delaware’s pioneering efforts. Come 2012, it could be the first state with a view of wind turbines from its beaches. Jim Lanard is the head of strategic planning for Bluewater Wind, the company developing the wind farm.

    Lanard: We’re hoping to get around 150 turbines, they would each be 3 megawatts. And the turbines will be 262 ft above the sealevel, that’s about 80 meters. And the blades will be 140 feet long. But again because they’re so far out they’ll be hard to see.

    Residents and lawmakers in Delaware pushed for wind above other options like coal or natural gas — even though it may cost consumers more on their electricity bills,

    Lanard: The costs look like they’ll be about 70 cents a month more per month for customers for the life of the project if electric rates just go up moderately. If they go up much more steeply as they have in the last year or two we’ll be saving consumer money from day one.

    In general, both presidential candidates support the development of wind energy to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Senator John McCain proposes tax credits to support the industry. And Senator Barack Obama’s goal is to have alternative energies comprise ten percent of americans’ use within four years. Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware professor, says the Bluewater Wind farm alone has the potential to do more than that.

    Kempton: If Bluewater is built at 600 megawatts that’s about 17 percent of the electricty for the state of Delaware. So in other words if you did 6 of those projects you’d be able to run the whole state off of offshore wind, and you’d still be using only about 1/5 of the wind resource.

    Kempton has studied all the wind power available from North Carolina through Massachusetts — taking in account bird flyways, shipping lanes, and other unusable sites.

    Kempton: There’s enough electricity in the offshore wind resource to run all the electricity of those states, all of the cars and light trucks and all of the building heat now provided by natural gas and fuel oil. And you still haven’t used the whole resource, that’s only 2/3 of it that provides all of those needs. So it’s a very large resource.

    Aside from the potential to cost more, one of the criticisms of offshore wind is its environmental impact. A major concern in Delaware is protecting animals like the right whale, kemp’s ridley turtle, and the red knot shore bird. Bluewater Wind is in the middle of a two-year study on the impact of migrating birds.

    Firestone: The perception generally is that people think wind turbines kill birds. And they do kill birds.

    Jeremy Firestone is a professor at the University of Delaware.

    Firestone: But I don’t think people think about what other technologies do to wildlife. And so when a fossil fuel generator discharges cooling water, it kills billions of fish larvae.

    In an analysis Firestone did of electricty from wind versus water, he found a dam kills four thousand fish for every two birds killed by a turbine. There is no debate that some seafloor habitat will be destroyed. At this week’s workshop in Wilmington, presenters from the Massachusetts Audubon Society and an environmental consulting group in Long Island, demonstrated ways that offshore wind farms could minimize harming animals. In Cape Cod, for example, turbines could be built where few endangered terns are found to fly. Yet in Massachusetts, an ocean view speckled by windmills, remains a sticking point. But Firestone has also studied how visitors to Delaware feel about a wind farm.

    Firestone: We do find a significant percentage who say — this is for out of state tourists — who would go to a different beach in delaware if you had a windfarm as close as 6 miles. But we find an even larger percentage who are curious about it and would go to a beach that had windfarms in view at least once. And that means they may go back again.

    But first, the turbines will have to be built. Bluewater has already completed a critical step — this summer the company signed a contract with Delmarva Power – to buy electricity from the wind farm. Next comes two years of applying for permits. New Jersey and Rhode Island appear next in line to begin offshore wind development.

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