Researchers say yes, but wind farms may not receive support of state legislators
The idea of supplementing Delaware’s energy supply with an off-shore wind farm is gaining popularity among experts, politicians and citizens.
The University of Delaware has been studying the viability of wind power and has concluded that it is a possibility.
“We think it’s very attractive, not just feasible,” said Dr. Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware professor at the College of Marine and Earth Studies in Lewes. “It could be an export industry.”
Kempton teaches a class on offshore wind power. The university has studied the wind off Delaware’s coast for 20 years. From the research, Kempton concluded that there is enough wind for a wind farm that could generate up to 4,000 megawatts of power each year.
Wind power’s most obvious benefit is that it’s a nonpolluting, renewable resource.
“You pay all the money up front, then you have no fuel costs,” Kempton said. Power plants based on fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal need to pay for the fuel as well as transportation costs.
Wind power is also much cleaner than fossil fuel-based plants. It has no toxic emissions.
In addition, a large wind farm would generate more electricity than Delaware needs. The excess energy could be sold to neighboring states, Kempton said.
Sen. George Bunting (D-Bethany Beach) has researched wind power and said he supports a wind farm pilot program, adding that he will probably be involved in legislation advocating a pilot program in the future.
But installing wind farms off the coast has some drawbacks as well.
“It’s controversial,” said Bunting. The University of Delaware has identified the coast of Cape Henlopen and some parts of Rehoboth Beach as the best place for installing a wind farm. Those are places where the wind is strongest. The farm would be far off the coast, but still visible from shore.
“Extend your arm and put your index finger up. That’s what you’re going to see,” Bunting said.
But based on the need for clean power, the people of Delaware may not have the “luxury” of rejecting a wind farm based on aesthetics, Bunting said.
Wind power is a fluctuating resource, so there are sometimes shortfalls. But the shortfalls from a wind farm would be “predictable,” because the amount of wind varies on schedule and can be predicted based on weather forecasts, Kempton said.
When a shortfall occurs, utility companies would have to rely on power lines or generators.
“But that’s the same problems as any power plant,” Kempton said. All power plants have to shut down sometimes for maintenance. A well-maintained plant will be offline 5 percent of the time, Kempton said, while a wind farm would be off about 15 percent of the time. “It’s just a matter of percentages,” Kempton said.
A wind farm would also have to avoid navigational channels and it would pose some danger to birds.
Some citizens groups support wind power as well.
Bill Zak, founder of Citizens for Clean Power, said wind power might have a future in Delaware. “There’s every indication and reason to believe that it is available in the area,” he said.
Citizens for Clean Power is an advocacy group that formed six months ago with the goal of cleaning up the Indian River Power Plant. The group has not specifically lobbied for wind power, but Zak said it would be an “ideal” clean power source.
NRG, which owns the Indian River Power Plant, recently purchased a wind power plant. But the company is not looking at building a wind power plant off the coast of Delaware.
Ray Long, director of the Northeast Region for NRG, said he thinks an off-shore wind farm would have difficulty winning state approval.
Delmarva Power is going to be awarding a long-term contract in November for an energy plant. NRG is competing for the contract with a plan to update its Indian River plant with cleaner coal technology.
A wind power company, Blue Water Wind, was also considering competing for the contract, but the company did not respond to interview requests.
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