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Concerns raised as Ørsted, U.S. Wind projects progress off coast of Delmarva

From: WMDT 

DELMARVA – Just days ago, the world’s largest offshore wind farm became fully operational off the coast of Yorkshire, England. Meanwhile, Ørsted and U.S. Wind are preparing to build offshore wind farms here at home, near Ocean City, Maryland and Delaware’s coastal beaches.

Ørsted plans to build their Skipjack Wind project, which includes approximately 70 wind turbines. At its closest point, Skipjack Wind will be 15.5 miles from shore, says Ørsted. U.S. Wind is working on two offshore wind projects: its MarWind and Momentum Wind projects.

However, some are raising concerns about various issues relating to the projects: how they will impact local tourism, wildlife, and job creation. The Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI), a non-profit affiliate of the State Policy Network of conservative and libertarian think tanks, say the projects will only negatively impact Delmarva.

Tourists and the Turbines

David Stevenson, Director of CRI’s Center for Energy and Environment, cites a study out of North Carolina State University when it comes to potential impacts on tourism. The study asked respondents how likely they would be to visit beach towns if there were wind turbines visibly towering over the water.

“38% of those renters would not come back to a beach with visible turbines during the daylight. Even worse, when they saw visualizations of what it looks like at night with the red flashing lights, 54% wouldn’t come back,” said Stevenson. “If we see that kind of economic damage to our beach communities, it means jobs, it means the payroll that you get – you may get a smaller paycheck. It means property values may fall.”

U.S. Wind and Ørsted cite a different study, refuting that wind turbines drive away tourists and their dollars. The study, out of the University of Rhode Island, looked at vacation rental numbers on Block Island, Rhode Island after a wind farm was constructed just three miles from the coast. Despite the visible wind turbines, tourism numbers spiked.

“There is a curiosity effect to offshore wind development. People want to see these majestic machines out on the horizon that are creating massive amounts of clean energy,” said Nancy Sopko, Senior Director of External Affairs for U.S. Wind. “People wanted to rent houses and other vacation rentals, condos, etc. to see these turbines.”

Worries Over Wildlife

Meanwhile, Stevenson says tourists and locals don’t want wind turbines built near their homes, and neither does the local wildlife.

“Each one of these turbines, if you look at the blades, sweep out an area of eight to ten football fields,” said Stevenson. “The wingtips of the blades are moving at 180 miles per hour and higher. They are definitely going to kill migratory birds, such as the Red Knot, which is an endangered species.”

Stevenson also worries about any potential impact on horseshoe crabs, which feed the Red Knots when they stop during their migration on Delaware’s beaches. He says not enough information is available yet to tell if the animals will be safe from harm.

“The federal agencies that have approved this say they don’t have the data. In our view, get the data first before these things. Don’t build them and then figure out what the damage is,” said Stevenson.

U.S. Wind also refutes these claims. Sopko says U.S. Wind has done their due diligence in planning for any environmental impact.

“We are seeking to avoid any impact. What we cannot avoid, we are significantly minimizing, and also mitigating any impact to the environment,” said Sopko. “U.S. Wind, as with all offshore wind developers, have to go through a multiyear process with several federal agencies and state agencies that are really digging into the contents of our permitting applications and our plans.”

Ørsted adds that National Audubon Society studies indicate that the areas where the wind farms will be constructed are far enough offshore that they will not affect the birds. Plus, Ørsted says impact on horseshoe crabs and other marine animals will be minimal. The company says that’s because if animals like a whale, for example, are detected during construction, work will stop. And, construction will take place outside of horseshoe crab breeding season. Ørsted says horseshoe crabs might even use the base of the wind turbines as a habitat.

Job Creation, Local Investments

U.S. Wind has been touting how many local, permanent jobs will be created through their projects. Sopko says the company is working with the Sparrow Point steel mill in Baltimore, Maryland. She says workers there will be responsible for building the monopile foundations that secure the wind turbines into the earth.

Sopko says the MarWin project is estimated to create 1,500 jobs, the Momentum Wind project will employ 3,500 people, and the Sparrow Point collaboration will create 500 jobs. Operations and maintenance on the coast will bring 100 jobs, says Sopko.

“You put all that together, and that’s thousands and thousands of jobs for our first two projects,” said Sopko. “What we have said has been backed up by the independent consultants that have looked at these job numbers, that applications that we have put forward to the states.”

Ørsted is also pledging to boost job creation on Delmarva. The company has committed to creating 780 permanent local jobs, plus thousands of local construction jobs during its Skipjack Wind project. The company also claims it will invest a minimum of $735 million in capital spending over 30 years in the region as it builds Skipjack Wind.

CRI, however, isn’t confident that all of those jobs will go to locals.

“There’s definitely going to be some jobs created during the 12 to 18 months when they construct these things. But, a lot of those jobs will go to folks in Europe,” said Stevenson. “The turbines are built in Europe, the crews that bring them over here are European vessels with European installation crews. So, even though there’s some jobs created, they may not be in the U.S.”

Looking Ahead

Despite the opposition, Ørsted and U.S. Wind are on track to continue with their respective projects. Sopko says the work is crucial, given the worsening climate crisis.

“Offshore wind in general can bring massive amounts of clean energy to the grid at a time when it is most needed. We see the world burning and drowning all at the same time,” said Sopko. “We are very excited about the opportunities that exist for Marylanders, for Delaware, and we want everyone to be a part of it that wants to be a part of it.”

Stevenson hopes that the companies will consider moving their projects further offshore, or out of the region altogether.

“If you’re worried about climate change, this isn’t going to solve it. It’s just replacing other things that work better, have less environmental damage, and have less threats to our economy,” said Stevenson. “People have got to wake up to what’s going on here, and we do have a way to stop these or get changes made.”