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Supporters, opponents offer comments on wind power

Residents who are opposed to construction of offshore wind turbines, as well as those in favor of them, had a chance to voice their opinions at a workshop in Bethany Beach on May 31.

Currently, the only plans for wind turbines off the coast of Delaware are those proposed before the State of Maryland, which would build turbines off the coast of Maryland and Delaware to produce wind-generated power for Maryland customers.

The May 31 workshop was to address recommendations from Delaware’s Offshore Wind Working Group, which was formed late last year and is made up of state legislators, representatives from power companies and environmental groups, and state Department of Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin. The group is chaired by Bruce Burcat, who is chief executive officer of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition (MAREC).

MAREC is a group of wind-energy industry representatives, solar company representatives, attorneys, wind turbine manufacturers and others seeking to promote the growth of renewable energy in the region.

The recommendations include two resolutions. The first is that Delaware should not move forward now in procuring wind energy from a project already approved by another state. The second resolution, however, leaves open several possibilities for Delaware to either buy wind power from projects completed by other states, or to construct its own wind turbines.

The group had suggested in a Dec. 15, 2017, memorandum to Gov. John Carney that Delaware consider several options. These include:

• Large-scale purchase of wind power (more than 100 megawatts);

• Making incremental commitments to future projects, instead of large-scale purchases, until the market drives costs lower;

• Considering waiting until more developers propose projects in the Mid-Atlantic region, such as proposed projects in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts; and

• Explore other sources of renewable energy in lieu of offshore wind.

The memo to the governor also included more than 20 questions regarding offshore wind that the group said they feel should be answered before proceeding toward any offshore wind projects. Those questions range from “What are the expected impacts on tourism?” to “How will an increase in utility rates impact economic development and jobs?”

Wind power would be more expensive to produce than current sources of power, according to information provided at the workshop by moderator Tom Noyes of DNREC’s Division of Coastal Climate & Energy.

Several of those who commented at the May 31 workshop at the South Coastal Library expressed concerns that if wind turbines are constructed off the coast of Delaware, tourism would be adversely affected.

If turbines are visible from their chairs in the sand, “will people continue to come to the beach?” wondered Jeff Pohanka, who said his family has had a home in the Gull Point community for 30 years. Pohanka cited a poll in which 54 percent of respondents said they would not rent beach property if turbines were visible.

He also questioned estimates of jobs created by wind turbine projects, which he said would probably be lower than the estimate of 69 jobs created by the approved Maryland projects. Pohanka added that wind turbines would not replace energy from fossil fuels because wind is not constant and would have to be backed up by another power source.

Another speaker, Bill Zak, said he is in favor of wind power.

“I think nothing is perfect,” Zak said, “but we should not make utopian perfection the enemy of the good and the better.”

Zak said part of the “good and the better” would be the addition of power that is less harmful to those who live near it than coal power, citing studies showing shortened lives and higher rates of heart and lung disease in those who live within 50 miles of coal-powered power plants.

Nancy Feichtel, a longtime local educator, said she herself suffers from severe asthma and would like to see less fossil fuels used to generate power.

“We need clean fuel,” Feichtel said. “We have a resource right in our back yard.”

Feichtel disagreed with Pohanka’s view of economic impact, saying wind power is “a resource that could build the economy of Delaware” and that Delaware could become a leader in the field, supporting efforts all over the East Coast.

“We would be stupid to miss this opportunity,” Feichtel said, adding that she has seen wind turbines in other areas and was not put off by them. “I have found pleasure in sitting in Denmark and looking at the lovely windmills,” she said.

More information on the topic of offshore wind power in Delaware is available online at www.de.gov/offshorewind.