There’s a new proposal to build wind turbines off the coast of Delaware, albeit one much smaller than the ambitious and now-defunct Bluewater Wind contract.
Researchers at The University of Delaware, together with the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, are proposing a small test project in the Atlantic Ocean, off an unspecified point on the Delaware coast. They are seeking federal funding from an offshore wind program offered by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Delaware’s congressional delegation announced the researchers’ application Thursday in a news release accompanied by their letter of support to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Delmarva Power has committed to cooperating with the project’s organizers on the purchase of power, said Gov. Jack Markell in a letter of support released by his office Thursday.
The University of Delaware has been the site of leading offshore wind research, including by the principal investigator on this project, Jeremy Firestone. He was instrumental in the building of a research turbine on the coast in Lewes.
The Energy Department program offers a total of $180 million toward multiple offshore wind demonstration projects aimed at increasing reliability and driving the down the price of the electricity. There are still no turbines off the coast of the United States.
Markell’s letter says that “an impressive team – including major turbine manufacturers, environmental scientists and engineers – has committed” to making the project a success.
The news release from the congressional delegation listed three major turbine vendors – Vestas, Gamesa and Siemens – as supporters of the project. It did not elaborate on the nature of their support.
Firestone said the idea is to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy by testing technology. If turbine technology can be validated as reliable, developers would have an easier time raising money from banks, he said.
“The objective is to not favor one company over another company but to advance the industry as a whole. We think that’s the best way to lower costs and create robust competition and stimulate economic development and jobs here in the United States,” Firestone said.
Firestone described it as a “small project” involving fewer than 10 turbines but declined to say exactly how many.
Delmarva spokesman Matt Likovich said “we have been impressed” with several aspects of the project, including the planning that has gone into the project’s design and the concept of a small demonstration project.
“The proposed University of Delaware project would provide Delmarva Power’s customers and the state of Delaware with the opportunity to explore the advantages of offshore wind energy without the risks and above-market costs associated with a traditional, full-scale offshore wind project,” Likovich said.
Industry observers say a possible buyer of electricity is key to the success of an offshore wind farm, no matter how small.
After initially resisting the idea of offshore wind, Delmarva signed the first contract for offshore wind power in the nation, with Bluewater Wind, in 2008. That project proposed dozens of turbines 13 miles off the Delaware coast.
But Bluewater, later owned by NRG Energy, failed to get financing for the project and terminated the contract at the end of last year.
Markell noted in the letter, dated May 31, that while he supports the proposal, “significant milestones” must still be achieved.
They include securing a lease and state and local approvals; a public vetting and regulatory approval of a power purchase contract with Delmarva; and providing neighbors and beachgoers an opportunity to comment.
The Port of Wilmington will provide logistical support for the project, a spokeswoman there said.
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