Photo courtesy of Bluewater Wind
In Denmark, which leads the world in wind power, many of the biggest wind farms are built offshore in the waters of the North Sea. The burgeoning wind industry in the United States has yet to venture off land, but if a proposed power purchase in Delaware comes to fruition, a new 600-megawatt "wind park" off the Delaware coast may soon be supplying up to 17 percent of that state's electricity.
"We really gave this thing a full-court press," says Chad Tolman, Energy Chair for the Sierra Club's Delaware Chapter. "This is a major victory for us."
The chapter has been pushing for clean, renewable energy in the state ever since the Sierra Summit two years ago, and its efforts were assisted when the Delaware legislature responded to a nearly 60 percent electric rate increase last year by passing a law requiring the state's biggest electricity supplier, Delmarva Power & Light, to seek proposals for a new source of "stable-priced, environmentally beneficial electricity generation."
Three bids were made, and this May the Delaware Public Services Commission and three other state agencies ordered Delmarva Power to negotiate a deal with Bluewater Wind, which has proposed to build 200 3-megawatt turbines off the Delaware coast, enough to power 130,000 households. The power purchase agreement will be the first in the nation to include an offshore wind park.
"We hope this will break the ice for the development of offshore wind energy all up and down the East Coast, from Cape Hattaras to Cape Cod," says Tolman.
Thanks in large part to grassroots work by the Sierra Club and its allies, the wind park and power purchase agreement received wide public support across the state. The chapter spearheaded the formation of the Delaware Alliance for a Clean Energy Future, joining forces with the League of Women Voters, Audubon Society, Nature Society, Citizens for Clean Power, and Citizens for a Better Sussex (County).
"It didn't look hopeful for awhile," Tolman says. "The fossil fuel industry is well entrenched in this state, and right up to the last minute it looked like the governor was favoring another coal plant."
NRG Energy, which owns the largest coal plant in Delaware, had lobbied the governor and several legislators for "clean coal" (IGCC) technology and placed ads in newspapers saying it could capture carbon emissions. But at a public workshop held last fall by the Public Services Commission, Tolman asked one of NRG's top officials if the company planned to do this at the proposed new plant. The official admitted that while NRG planned to prepare the plant for carbon capture and sequestration, it would not actually do so until required by law, and if the added cost was passed on to rate payers.
"We basically shot down their ad in the public eye," Tolman says, referring to a commentary published in the Cape Gazette by him and Dr. Len Schwartz, an engineer at the University of Delaware.
At the urging of the Sierra Club and its allies, thousands of Delaware citizens wrote to the governor, state agencies and lawmakers, penned letters-to-the-editor, and testified at public hearings in support of the wind park. The chapter sent out mailings and e-mail alerts to all its members, organized a march in Wilmington in April (below, Tolman in blue jacket and cap), hosted an energy film festival in Dover, and sponsored a series of speaking engagements around the state, including spots on local radio and TV.
"We talked to Rotary Clubs, medical centers, retirement communities, churches, garden clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution—anywhere we could give the issue exposure," says Tolman, who gave several talks with Willett Kempton, a wind energy and public opinion expert from the U of D. "I'd speak about the threat of global warming and the need to reduce CO2 emissions, and Willett would explain that we have the technology now, it works great, and it can be cost-competitive."
Tolman says wind power is the one renewable energy technology that's proven and ready to go in terms of replacing coal—"the fastest, most secure way of reducing CO2 emissions in the short term."
Three hundred miles up the eastern seaboard, a similar project planned for Nantucket Sound is wending its way through the permitting process. But Tolman says it's "like night and day in terms of public support" for the two projects. "Surveys have found strong opposition to the Nantucket Sound project in Massachusetts, whereas people in Delaware overwhelmingly favor this project—they've even said they'd be willing to pay $5 or $10 more on their monthly electricity bill for offshore wind power."
In late May, Tolman received a letter from the president of Bluewater Wind, thanking him for his help pushing the deal through.
Photos used with permission.