Fenwick wind farm US Wind

Fenwick mayor: Wind farm deal ‘rushing to outcome’

Katie KazimirGovernment, Headlines

Fenwick wind farm US Wind

This illustration by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management shows how a wind farm would look off Ocean City, Maryland.

Fenwick Island Mayor Natalie Magdeburger has a lot of questions about the state embracing a plan to bring an offshore wind power cables ashore in a Delaware State Park near her town:

  • US Wind is an Italian company and could be sold, she pointed out. Could that give an unfriendly company access to the United States’ power grid?
  • What exactly is the impact of sonar and radar to be used to build the US Wind turbine farm off nearby Ocean City? How long will that impact last?
  • What’s the plan to close or remove the farm or its turbines if they outlive their usefulness, and who will pay for that?

Magdeburger wants to see more time taken exploring the impact of the project before any action is taken.

“I think they are rushing to an outcome,” the mayor said. 

The wind farm cable possibility has been discussed for years.

In December Gov. John Carney announced the state is negotiating with US Wind, which is building a wind farm in the Atlantic off Ocean City, to bring power cables ashore onshore at Delaware State Seashore Park’s 3Rs Beach.

That beach is 12 miles north of Fenwick Island.

The 3Rs Beach would be leased by US Wind from the state for $350,000 a year, Carney said.

The cables would continue under the bay to the old Indian River Power Plant, where US Wind already bought the surrounding 142 acres for $20 million.

Fenwick says no

US Wind late last year offered a Community Benefits Package of $2 million, payable in $200,000 installments over 10 years, to seven beach towns in the Association of Coastal Towns.

Fenwick refused the deal. 

“We felt we needed to get real answers,” Magdeburger said. 

Nancy Sopko, US Wind’s senior director of external affairs said Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and the City of Lewes have begun to evaluate the offer via their respective public meeting processes, “all of which we’ve participated in.”

“We will continue to work with the coastal towns to provide them with information about our projects and answer any questions they might have,” she said in written answers to questions.

The Ocean City farm is US Wind’s first, and Magdeburger said she and others worry about how safe it will be.

But she worries more about what would happen if the company or farm sold to a country that was not a friend to the U.S.

US Wind is majority-owned by Italian company Renexia SpA, a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA of Italy. 

“Are we going to allow a Trojan horse to be built on our seashores,” she asked. 

Sopko said there are safeguards against such sales.

“US Wind will not be sold to China, North Korea or Russia,” she said, referring to countries listed in a question.

“The federal government retains certain powers over the transfer of companies operating on federal lands, such as the Outer Continental Shelf, where our projects will be located,” she said.

In addition, the wind farm would interfere with sonar and radar technology, Magdeburger said, which the US Coast Guard relies on to keep our shore waters safe. 

The impact would be widespread should there be a military conflict, she believes. .

“It’s not just Fenwick,” the mayor said. “It’s our entire coast.” 

Sopko responded that there is a comprehensive process in place whereby an offshore wind developer’s application is reviewed by the Department of Defense, FAA, U.S. Coast Guard, and  the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at multiple stages of development to determine if impacts to radar would result from construction and operations.

“The Department of Defense reviewed our project plans twice and issued no objection, as did the FAA,” Sopko said.

Fears sbout storms

The mayor also is worried about the coast’s safety in case of major storms and natural disasters.

US Wind says that the windmills are certified for a Category 3 storm, but Magdeburger pointed out that Delaware gets Category 4 storms and other natural disasters that could destroy the structures.

She said she hasn’t seen any information about how the damage to the structures and any debris washing ashore would be handled, other than US Wind saying insurance would cover it.

Magdeburger says that there is no money in the plan on how to decommission the wind farm,  and the windmills are only good for 20 years.

She fears that will mean local taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

Not so, said Sopko.

“The lifespan of offshore wind farms is about 25 years,” Sopko said. “The federal government requires all offshore wind developers to provide a decommissioning plan with its federal permitting application, along with a performance bond to cover the full cost of decommissioning and infrastructure.”

US Wind provided that information to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and it’s publicly available on boem.gov. BOEM evaluated US Wind’s decommissioning plans and effects in in a statement the issued Oct. 6, 2023, she said. It’s also available on the bureau’s website.

“It’s worth noting, however, that all offshore wind turbine components are designed and built to withstand the most extreme weather events we could imagine,” she said. “So hurricanes, nor’easters and other extreme weather events are well within our engineering design tolerances.”

Fenwick Island also wants more focus on environmental impact.

“When they are just doing their testing, the fish leave,” Magdeburger said. 

Sopko said, “US Wind has made strong commitments to avoid, minimize and mitigate any risk offshore wind development in our project area could have on marine or avian wildlife.”

At a DNREC fisheries meeting last week, Fisheries Manager John Clark said the reason the grid would go through the bay is because it would only take one permit.

If it went through Ocean City, which is heavily built up along the coast, US Wind would need permits for all the residences and businesses that it would pass through.

“It would be less expensive to go over land,” Clark said. 

But going through the Indian River Bay will mean major effects for Delaware’s fisheries, particularly the shellfish industry, Magdeburger said.

Effect on business

Fenwick is technically nine miles from Ocean City, but the beaches seem to seamlessly melt into each other along Route 1.

The ocean view littered with turbines could potentially impact the town’s tourism industry, another cause for Fenwick Island’s concern. 

A 2012 University of Delaware study said beach towns provide more than 10% of the state’s total employment, taxes and business production.

With Sussex County’s explosive growth since then, Magdeburger said that the 2023 and 2024 numbers will be even greater.

The loss of revenue, especially if there is a catastrophe with the wind farms, would be extreme for the entire state, she said.

“We will be left with whatever other damages they do,” Magdeburger said.

The long-term environmental damage would forever change the Delaware coastal ecology.

“It’s irreversible,” she said. We will never be the same community.”

Fenwick Island would like to see other energy alternatives explored.

For example, she said she has solar panels on her rooftop and were it allowed, she would add more to add power to the power grid.

Solar panels have a minimal impact on safety and the environment, she believes.

“I’m relatively convinced this will be a bad thing we will regret and have to apologize for generations going forward,” Magdeburger said.


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