Skyscrapers in the sea: Massive wind turbines planned off Delaware coast

The Danish company Ørsted plans to place wind turbines like this 853-foot tall GE Haliade X-12 turbine in the Skipjack Wind Farm east of the Delaware’s southern beaches. (GE photo)

The Danish company Ørsted plans to place wind turbines like this 853-foot tall GE Haliade X-12 turbine in the Skipjack Wind Farm east of the Delaware’s southern beaches. (GE photo)

The latest plans to harness the power of the wind will feature 853-foot-tall turbines installed east of Delaware’s beaches.

The Danish company Ørsted announced last month that it would install the world’s largest offshore wind turbines in federal water 15 to 20 miles off Delaware’s coast. Built by GE, the Haliade X-12 turbines would stand 853 feet tall in the Skipjack Wind Farm east of the state’s southern beaches. The turbine’s three blades are each longer than a football field.

GE’s Haliade X-12 turbine stands 853-feet tall and with three blades that are each longer than a football field. (GE Photo)

“We look forward to introducing the next-generation offshore wind turbine to the market,” Ørsted Offshore CEO Martin Neubert said in a statement. Pending full regulatory approval, the turbines are set to be up and running by 2022. The 10 turbines are expected to generate 120 MW of power. Even though the turbines will be built off the Delaware coast, Ørsted has an agreement to sell the power they produce to Maryland.

While those plans move forward, there is opposition from beach homeowners and some local government officials. Jeff Pohanka’s family has had a home in the Bethany Beach area since the late 1970s.

“They would be very visible particularly on clear days. They’d also be visible at nighttime because of all the flashing red lights,” said Pohanka, who represents a group called Save Our Beach View, which opposes the plan. “We’re going to create an industrial landscape on our horizon. You could end up with a couple hundred wind turbines out there. I think that could have an impact economically on tourism and home values.”

Pohanka also is concerned about the impact on migratory bird populations that use Delaware’s beaches as a resting point as they migrate.

“They fly through our area a lot, and that could be a problem,” he said. “I’m for affordable clean energy, but I don’t want to destroy the environment to try to save it.”

Using the biggest offshore turbines rather than smaller ones has its positives and negatives, said Jeremy Firestone, who is the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware. “There will be significantly fewer of them and they’ll be spaced further apart,” he said, on the plus side.

The downside? “They’re taller, and so each individual wind turbine will be more visible,” Firestone said.

In the 2000s, BluewaterWind planned to build up to 150 turbines about 13 miles off the Delaware coast. Those machines would have generated 3 to 3.5 megawatts of power. That plan fell apart in the economic drop of the late 2000s, amid big questions about Congress extending wind-energy tax credits beyond 2012.

In theory, Ørsted’s plans for much taller, more powerful turbines will improve the economic efficiency of building and installation.

“Each foundation that you have to put down into the subsea and then raise up and put a turbine is expensive. It’s expensive. Each install is expensive,” Firestone said. “You can significantly decrease the cost to deliver energy on a per-megawatt hour.”

And though Pohanka continues to fight the project and educate others on what is in the plans, he fears there’s no stopping the turbines.

“I think they’re probably going to happen,” he said.

This map shows the location of the Skipjack Wind Farm off the coast of southern Delaware. The much larger Ocean Wind Farm planned off the coast of New Jersey can be seen as well. (Orsted Photo)

Ørsted has its eyes set on the New Jersey coast next, with a much bigger project. The company plans 1,100 MW off the Jersey Shore spanning from Atlantic City to Cape May. That project will also utilized the Haliade X 12 turbines that stand 853 feet tall. The company expects to commission that project, dubbed Ocean Wind, in 2024.

Ørsted opened America’s first offshore wind farm in 2016. The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island and west of Montauk, New York, consists of five turbines. Those turbines stand about 575 feet tall and generate 6 MW each.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.