A proposal to build electricity-producing windmills in the Atlantic Ocean off the Delaware coast won preliminary approval from a panel of state officials yesterday, although they signaled that the wind “farm” might not be as large as originally planned.
At a meeting yesterday in Dover, the state capital, leaders from four Delaware agencies ordered an electric utility, Delmarva Power, to negotiate with the wind farm’s developer, Bluewater Wind. Phil Cherry, who represented the state environmental agency at the meeting, said the agency also expressed a preference for a site off Rehoboth Beach instead of a more southern site near Bethany Beach.
Cherry said the agencies also ordered Delmarva Power to negotiate with two other companies for a backup plant, powered by fossil fuels, to provide power when the wind isn’t blowing.
The decision follows months of official hearings and political jostling as Delaware sought proposals to produce more power in the state. Besides the wind farm, other proposals called for large new plants burning coal or natural gas.
Cherry said the wind proposal stood out in part for its environmental benefits. Planners said it would produce none of the so-called greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, that scientists say contribute to global climate change.
“The offshore wind [farm] is just so over-and-above more clean than the proposed coal plant or, for that matter, the gas plant,” said Cherry, of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “It’s zero emissions. It’s got no carbon footprint.”
The order was also celebrated by officials at New Jersey-based Bluewater Wind. They are seeking to build the first offshore wind farm on the East Coast and so far have avoided the pitfalls that have held up wind proposals off Cape Cod and Long Island.
“We believe this is a good step forward,” said Jim Lanard, a spokesman for the company.
But many steps remain before the first turbine can be pounded into the ocean floor. Bluewater has one to two months to negotiate with Delmarva Power over the design and power output of the wind farm, officials with the two companies said.
These negotiations might produce something far different than Bluewater’s original proposal, which calls for 200 turbines, each more than 250 feet tall, to be built several miles offshore of Rehoboth or Bethany. At that distance, the wind farm’s planners say, the turbines would resemble only toothpick-thin specks on the horizon.
Cherry said the state agencies believe the best option would be to build off Rehoboth and to build smaller. Staff members at the state public service commission had previously suggested a wind farm with only half or one-third of the proposed capacity, he said.
At the same time, utility officials are supposed to negotiate with a pair of power-plant companies, NRG Energy and Conectiv, to build the backup plant. Cherry said the agencies’ preference was for this plant to run on natural gas.
Any agreements reached during these negotiations will have to be approved by state officials. If an offshore wind farm gets final approval, it will still need to undergo a federal review.
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
23 May 2007
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