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Petitions call for legislators to approve Bluewater wind farm

It’s been all quiet on the wind front in Delaware, as the state’s budget woes dominate discussion in the Legislature. For now, debate by elected officials of a proposed offshore wind farm has been moved to the back burner in Dover.

But offshore wind farm supporters continue to lobby lawmakers to approve the project, the fate of which has been in limbo since December, when representatives of four state agencies tabled a vote on a proposed contract between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power.

Sussex County environmentalist groups are circulating a petition in support of the project, and Lt. Gov John Carney, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has established a link to a pro-wind farm petition on his campaign website.

Bluewater Wind has been keeping mum for the past few weeks as the company finished bids for offshore wind power in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

During a storm two weeks ago, the RV Russell Peterson, commissioned by Bluewater Wind to study the effects of offshore wind turbines on migratory birds, took on water in an accident that ultimately led to the death of one crew member. The incident is under investigation, and neither Bluewater nor the owner of the vessel, Aqua Survey Inc. of Flemington, N.J., are commenting on the accident.

Jim Lanard, Bluewater Wind spokesman, said the company is looking into continuing the bird studies, which would be part of a federal permit requirement should the contract with Delmarva Power be approved.

Sen. George Bunting, D-Bethany Beach, said recently that accident does not doom the company and its proposal, but it wasn’t good public relations. “I don’t think it enhanced their position,” he said. Bunting said the ocean is an unforgiving place and some are questioning the wisdom of the research vessel being out in the storm.

He said decreased focus on the project in Dover is not a result of the Peterson wreck, nor because more information has led some legislators who were wind farm proponents to take a diminished view. “It’s all overshadowed by the most critical financial crisis Delaware has seen in 30 years. The wind farm has taken a back seat to that, as it should,” Bunting said.

Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said the Peterson incident was a tragic accident, but not one caused by Bluewater Wind or by anything that company has done.

Rep. Joe Booth, R-Georgetown, said it is inappropriate to use such a tragedy against a company’s image. He said as of now, it is up to the Senate to debate the concurrent resolution.

But Rep. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, said the ship should not have been in the ocean under those conditions. And he questioned why the men on board were from Florida, not Delaware, when Bluewater Wind has said it would hire Delaware crews.

Simpson said his constituents want the issue debated on the Senate floor so it can come to a vote. “We’ve taken our time and given this due diligence. We need to move forward,” he said.

Bunting said he is concerned that some of his constituency may be burdened by increasing electric prices that could result from an offshore wind farm. And he wants people who are concerned about environmental and health effects of the Indian River power plant to understand that facility is not connected to Bluewater Wind. “There is a huge misconception that the off-shore wind farm would result in the Indian River power plant closing,” Bunting said. “Building wind turbines will not shut down that plant,” he said.

Hocker said forcing a regulated utility to subsidize a for-profit utility is wrong. “We need to fish or cut bait … vote this thing up or down,” said Bunting, who cautioned a resolution calling for the offshore contract to be approved may have a rough run.

Bluewater Wind remains optimistic. “We’re not counting any chickens, but we are satisfied that everything possible is being done to support our efforts,” Lanard said.

By Leah Hoenen

Cape Gazette