Would you like to see the wind supply Delaware's energy needs?

The merits of wind power to supply electricity to the First State will be up for public discussion Dec. 6 in Lewes.

Members of the Offshore Wind Working Group are soliciting public comments as part of an information-gathering effort mandated by Gov. John Carney. The Lewes session is the final session in a series of meetings that began in October.

“We’re looking to see how Delaware can participate in offshore wind power generation,” public advocate and panel member Drew Slater said. “We’re looking to decide if Delaware should have its own wind farm or if we should look elsewhere.”

That elsewhere could mean cooperating with Maryland, which already has signed contracts to build a wind farm off its seaboard.

Or it could mean something else, Slater said.

“Delaware could look at jobs in the offshore wind industry, so instead of participating we would look at providing technical training and expertise that would make Delaware residents marketable,” he said.

The group will hold a final work meeting Dec. 11 in Dover. The governor set up the 19-member group with an executive order in August.

The working group has a Dec. 15 deadline to submit a report detailing short- and long-term strategies with recommendations for developing job opportunities in the offshore wind industry and to provide draft legislation needed to move forward.

Not a new idea

The idea of using the Earth’s natural wind action to perform useful work dates back centuries, with the most recognizable examples being Dutch windmills. While these early examples pumped water or milled grain, they’ve evolved into the modern version where spinning blades, looking much like airplane propellers, turn turbines to create electricity.

The first were built in 1991 off Denmark, and since then they have sprung up in the shallow waters of many European coastlines. Onshore wind turbines also have been constructed in a number of European countries, as well as the United States.

Germany has the largest number of wind farms in the world, with more than 4,400. By contrast, the United States has about one-quarter of that, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The University of Delaware built and operates an onshore wind turbine in Lewes for research and education. That has been running since June 2010.

The BOEM notes that offshore wind turbines are feasible on both coasts, but conditions along the Atlantic seaboard are more conducive to turbine construction because the waters are shallower than along the West Coast. This is despite the fact wind speeds are generally lower along the Atlantic coastline.

Offshore turbine towers can reach more than 200 feet in height. The airfoil blades can extend the height to almost 500 feet.

SUBHED Cost is a major concern

This is not the first time the state has looked into offshore wind power generation, Slater said.

In 2008, Bluewater Wind proposed a wind farm about 11 miles off the Delaware coast, but the project died after the company could not gather the necessary financing.

Marylanders have seen rate hikes designed to support construction of its offshore projects. Energy from the wind farm, expected to come online by 2021, would go into the regional electric grid which serves the entire state.

Legislators here would have to decide if those in the First State would see a rate increase similar to that in Maryland, $1.50 per bill.

The working group will recommend approaches to Carney, but what state legislators ultimately decide to do is up in the air.

“It’s a very fluid process and the recommendations are not set yet, which is why public comment is so important right now,” Slater said.

As the energy public advocate, Slater said he is looking to get First State customers reliable, renewable energy at the least cost. Most of Delaware’s electricity is produced through coal and natural gas.

“Environmentally, whether Delaware builds anything or not, renewable energy will start displacing coal and uneconomical plants will be phased out,” he said.

Rep. W. Charles “Trey” Paradee III is one of four state legislators in the group. How much an offshore wind farm could cost electric customers is one of his major concerns.

“I am deeply concerned about the potential costs to electric customers and the possibility higher energy costs could lead to job losses across our state that would far exceed any jobs created by construction of an offshore wind farm,” Paradee said.

In talks so far, Paradee said developers are looking for contracts that guarantee a price higher than Delawareans now are paying. In his opinion, it would be better to buy cheaper power from inland wind farms in neighboring states.

“If we want to make Delaware a greener and healthier place to live, we might be better off encouraging investment in solar or encouraging our electricity supplies to buy more electricity generated by onshore wind facilities in Pennsylvania or other states,” Paradee said.

While it’s still too early to say what the Offshore Wind Working Group will report to Carney, it isn’t too late for Delawareans to weigh in.

“I think it’s really important the public come to these workshops and the meetings to share their thoughts,” Slater said. “Back when Bluewater was working on this, there were concerns raised, and so it is important to have public engagement.”

The public can submit comments by emailing thomas.noyes@state.de.us.  The working group’s website is tinyurl.com/delaware-offshore-wind.