In case anyone doubts that Bluewater Wind is still playing to win, tangible proof sits in the Port of Wilmington
Bluewater executives showed off the company’s million-dollar investment Saturday, chartering a vessel that will head out to sea this week.
The vessel will start a 75-day study of bird activity in the area 11.7 miles off Rehoboth Beach, where the company’s wind farm would be built. The studies will help determine the possible impact of 150 turbines on avian life.
The research vessel was christened “R/V Russell W. Peterson” after the former Delaware governor who has been a vocal supporter of the Bluewater project.
Peterson’s wife, June, broke a bottle of champagne on the bow.
The event mixed politics and prayer, as speakers asked citizens to make their voices heard in favor of the project. The proposed offshore wind farm faces steadfast opposition from Delmarva Power, the utility that would be required to buy power from it for 25 years.
“We’re a small state on a small planet,” said John Hughes, the state’s natural resources secretary, during the naming ceremony. “We’re at the crossroads. Here at the twilight of the fossil fuel era, we will be wrenched from the dependencies we once took for granted. Without wisdom and guidance, we will suffer, one and all.”
The 91-year-old Peterson stood on the deck during the chilly, windswept 45-minute ceremony. Peterson was lauded for his work to get the Coastal Zone Act passed in 1971. The act protected the state’s coastline from new heavy industry.
“Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the coal and the oil and natural gas. They are the real global warming culprits,” said Peterson, who also is a past president of the National Audubon Society. “It’s fundamental Delawareans do something about the problem. Not just talk about it: Do something.”
Bluewater says the winds offshore are Delaware’s best natural energy resource. Buying offshore wind power would stabilize prices for years to come, even if the price is a little more expensive than buying on the open market, the company said.
Delmarva has contended it doesn’t need the power from the wind farm, and that a combination of transmission and conservation can ensure the area’s electricity future. The company says offshore wind technology would result in higher rates for its customers.
Delmarva also says it can satisfy state renewable power purchase rules by buying less expensive onshore wind power, although company officials won’t commit to buying as much wind energy as they would under the Bluewater contract. Delmarva spokesman Bill Yingling said his company’s customers could save billions by using onshore wind power instead.
“This continues to be about getting wind power for our customers at the best available price,” Yingling said. “Through onshore wind, we can provide more wind energy sooner and at half the cost.”
The Bluewater proposal is held up in the General Assembly, where members of the House could pass a resolution supporting the contract next month. Its prospects are hazier in the Senate, where opponents have expressed strong reservations.
One notable attendee on Saturday was Gerhard Kuska, White House director of ocean and coastal policy. Kuska spoke kindly of the effort, and said it was notable that citizens of Delaware aren’t raising the same esthetic and environmental objections as people in other areas, such as Cape Cod.
“Whenever we do anything new, there’s a little bit of angst,” Kuska said. He noted that the federal government would try to get permits for offshore wind farms done on a case-by-case basis, even if Interior Department rules haven’t yet been finalized. “We encourage innovation, and we want to enable that if we can.”
The liftboat Russell W. Peterson was built in Louisiana about 25 years ago, and served oil production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Liftboats can be raised up from the water, off three legs that plant themselves in the ocean’s floor.
In February, it was acquired by Aqua Survey Inc., the company contracted by Bluewater.
Traditionally, when a boat is sold, its new owners have the right to rename it.
The boat comes equipped with two radar sensors and a thermal imaging system to capture information on passing birds.
In his speech, Hughes alluded to the political battle when he said the Bluewater proposal is strongly supported by the state’s citizens, but “it is opposed by the old order, rank and privilege.”
In an interview, responding to contentions from Delmarva that the Bluewater turbines wouldn’t displace many fossil fuel emissions in Delaware, Hughes said the project would start a domino effect of offshore wind farms getting built, which would lead to a wider impact.
Also seen at the event were Democratic congressional candidate Karen Hartley-Nagle, Senate Minority Whip Liane Sorenson, R-Hockessin, Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker, and numerous environmental activists.
By Aaron Nathans
30 March 2008
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