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Wind farm size hinders energy talks

The size of a proposed offshore wind farm has been a point of contention in private negotiations.

Those negotiations could determine whether Bluewater Wind builds as few as 66 turbines, or as many as 200, off the Delaware coast to help supply the state’s electricity. If built, it could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

The more turbines that Bluewater gets to build as part of a long-term power purchase contract with Delmarva Power, the more power the wind farm would make available to Delaware consumers. Bluewater hopes to maximize its ability to sell power to Delmarva.

But Delmarva, unhappy it is being forced to buy power in the first place, hopes to minimize the amount of energy its buys on a long-term basis. The power company is concerned about the cost of wind power and has long contended it wants to protect its customers from having to pay for excess energy.

In May, the Public Service Commission and three other state agencies ordered Delmarva to negotiate with Bluewater Wind for a 200-300 megawatt offshore wind farm.

But Bluewater Wind and Delmarva have been debating what that order meant, said Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Public Service Commission.

Under one interpretation, Bluewater Wind would only be allowed to build between 66 and 100 turbines, or enough on the gustiest days to generate up to 300 megawatts and no more.

But on most days, the turbines wouldn’t produce anywhere near that much electricity. Offshore wind turbines only capture a third of their maximum power on an annual basis.

That means if Bluewater was limited to building 100 turbines, the wind farm would only provide an average of about 100 megawatts per hour. Each turbine produces a maximum of 3 megawatts per hour. One megawatt is enough to power 1,000 homes.

Under the other interpretation, Bluewater Wind could build as many as its originally proposed of 200 turbines. The wind farm would generate about 600 megawatts per hour on the gustiest days, and an annual average of about 200 megawatts per hour.

Delmarva would only accept up to 300 megawatts per hour, allowing Bluewater to sell any excess on the open market.

“The parties who are negotiating, Bluewater Wind and Delmarva, are addressing that issue in negotiations,” Burcat said. “It may be something the commission and the three state agencies will have to grapple with when they see what the result of the negotiations lead to.”

Burcat said PSC staff may have an opinion what the order meant, but he declined to elaborate. The PSC staff’s opinions are advisory to the commission.

Delmarva President Gary Stockbridge said he didn’t want to talk about the matter, saying he wasn’t sure what the order meant.

Delmarva has been a reluctant participant in negotiations; the company has filed a lawsuit to contest the contract in case it doesn’t like the outcome of negotiations.

Stockbridge said that he’d rather see electricity providers compete to provide renewable energy to satisfy the state’s stringent new requirements.

Bluewater Wind spokesman Jim Lanard would not comment about the matter while negotiations continue. After next Friday, “we will be eager to share our points of view regarding the term sheet that will be made public on that day,” Lanard said.

By Aaron Nathans

The News Journal

7 September 2007