UPDATE: Survey deadline extended
UPDATE: DNREC has extended the survey deadline to Jan. 15, 2020, to allow further input to be submitted.
Nov. 25: Locals expressed both concern and support at a meeting about possibly connecting an offshore wind farm to land via Fenwick Island State Park.
Representatives from Danish energy company Ørsted, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and state legislators were on hand at Indian River High School Nov. 19 to present information, answer questions and listen to public comments. The Indian River auditorium seats about 500 people and many were standing.
Ørsted has leased offshore ocean bottom from the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, about 17 miles off Bethany Beach. They are obtaining over a dozen permits in order to erect Skipjack Wind Farm, with up to fifteen 850-feet Haliade-X 12-megawatt wind turbines. Depending on permit approvals, offshore construction could begin as early as 2021, with operations underway in 2022.
Skipjack is a Maryland-authorized project and will only affect Maryland utility bills, but some of the energy created will go to Delaware customers. It’s expected to generate enough to power 35,000 homes through an underground electric cable. Ørsted is hoping to connect to the local grid at Fenwick Island.
The cable, which Skipjack Development Manager Joy Weber said has an about eight-inch diameter, will be placed by horizontal directional drilling to minimize environmental impact.
Weber said Fenwick Island State Park is the ideal location for an “interconnection facility,” similar to a substation, because it is the shortest distance from the wind farm. The less cable laid, the less the financial and environmental impact.
Ørsted, eager to make the proposed substation mutually beneficial, is sweetening the deal by offering to pay for up to $18 million in Fenwick Island State Park improvements. Those include new and expanded bathhouses and concessions, a pedestrian overpass over Route 1, more parking (possibly to include a parking garage), an amphitheater, a playground and pickleball courts. The substation itself is proposed to have a “green roof” with public access and amenities.
DNREC Director of Parks and Recreation Ray Bivens, said Fenwick Island is number two on the state parks capital improvements priority list.
Many in attendance, however, were opposed to developing the park at all, much less building a substation there. The first comment of the evening came from Fenwick Island resident Janet Eschbach.
“It is imperative that DNREC do its job to protect what little natural shoreline remains,” she said, to much applause. “My husband and I join the many people who are aware that climate change is real and that we must explore alternative, clean sources of energy … but I do know it is folly to consider further developing and destroying what little open space is left available at Fenwick Island State Park.”
Much of the concern had to do with a memorandum of understanding between Ørsted and DNREC signed over the summer without public input. However, both Sec. Shawn Garvin and Skipjack’s Weber assured that the memorandum was simply a starting point for a conversation and not in any way legally binding.
There were some locals that voiced support of the proposed wind farm and substation.
“I think we’ve lost sight of the big picture,” said Kit Sack, of Lewes. “Delaware is the lowest lying state in the country. In 20 years there might not be a Fenwick Island … and the fact that we think everyone else should suck it up and work on climate change and walk away from this is irresponsible.”
Perhaps the most noted commenter of the evening was Mayor Rick Meehan of Ocean City, Maryland. City officials have been vocally opposed to wind farms so close to their shore.
“We’re here to support your efforts tonight and your concerns about the landfall,” he said. “If these wind farms are constructed as proposed, the view off our shoreline will be changed forever. The sunrise that you get up and look at in the morning will never be the same. It looks like ‘Star Wars.’”
While the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will have the final say on the turbines, DNREC will have the final say in whether or not it connects to the mainland at Fenwick Island.
One of the evening’s final questions was, “If Delaware doesn’t allow it, where do you go?”
“Back to the drawing board,” said Weber.