Delaware, a state with a Democratic-led Legislature, has embarked on a significant study of its offshore wind potential, scheduled to be completed by year-end. This move, endorsed by Governor John Carney (D) this month, has injected fresh impetus into the state’s efforts to establish its inaugural target for offshore wind energy, a goal fervently supported by legislators and environmental advocacy groups alike.

State Senator Stephanie Hansen (D), at the helm of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, has spearheaded the reevaluation of Delaware’s offshore wind strategies to align with its climate objectives. She noted that Delaware currently stands apart from its neighboring states in lacking concrete wind energy objectives, emphasizing the state’s active commitment to advancing energy planning and implementation.

Should the study yield a state-level goal for offshore wind, Delaware would align itself with neighboring jurisdictions and unlock the opportunity to compete for industry-related employment and businesses flourishing along the East Coast. Power grid operator PJM Interconnection LLC is partnering in the study to assess transmission implications. However, apprehensions surrounding the financial burden of offshore wind still linger, stemming from a 2018 analysis that effectively halted the state’s wind aspirations for several years.

Simultaneously, a counter-movement has emerged among coastal communities against offshore wind initiatives. Some Delaware towns and lawmakers have echoed concerns about the potential downsides of the offshore wind industry. State Senator Bryant Richardson (R), the lone dissenting voice against Hansen’s study, opposes the industry due to anticipated costs and negative impacts on ocean ecosystems and coastal scenery, terming it an “eyesore”.

Delaware is currently navigating its offshore wind trajectory at a pivotal juncture for the U.S. wind industry. The northeast Atlantic is poised to witness the installation of thousands of turbines in the years to come, driven by commitments and subsidies across states from Maine to Virginia. This surge is paralleled by substantial investments from both public and private sectors to enhance aging ports, establish manufacturing and steel fabrication facilities, and create workforce training programs to meet the demands of this emerging industry.

This surge in wind proposals is partially attributed to the Biden administration’s pledge to establish enough ocean-based wind farms to power 10 million homes by 2030. Just recently, the White House granted approval for the nation’s fourth commercial-scale offshore wind farm off the Rhode Island coast, reiterating its intent to conduct 16 offshore wind environmental reviews by 2025.

Furthermore, the administration announced prospective lease zones in the central Atlantic last month, including an area around 30 miles off Delaware Bay’s coast. If developed, this new zone would complement the two planned offshore wind farms situated in federal waters off the Delaware coast. While Delaware’s power grid might not directly benefit from the power generated by these offshore wind projects, as they primarily serve Maryland’s wind energy goals, experts emphasize that these new offshore wind zones could contribute to Delaware’s target of achieving 40 percent renewable power under its portfolio standard by 2035.

Chelsea Jean-Michel, a wind analyst at BloombergNEF, highlighted that local opposition and spatial constraints have made expanding Delaware’s onshore renewable sector challenging, making offshore wind a more appealing option. She asserted that offshore wind projects can substantially decarbonize Delaware’s energy system by providing a substantial capacity of renewable energy in a single stroke.

Writing by Kevin Wood; Editing by Sarah White