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Delaware's Plan to Shepherd US Offshore Wind: Build Bridges

Offshore wind in the U.S. continues to find its sea legs: Cape Wind is tying off final funding, in a race with Deepwater to be the first to put steel in the water, while a number of pilot projects now await the Department of Energy's down-select to see who continues to get funding to progress their next phases. In the middle, where it sees a need to bring everyone's efforts, is a new group out of the U. of Delaware.

The Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, part of the university's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, is headed up by Stephanie McClellan, formerly with the Atlantic Wind Connection which was proposed to be the major transmission highway for offshore wind in the mid-Atlantic but has since refocused on piping cheap energy in parts of New Jersey. The group's roots in offshore wind go back to 2010 with the installation of a 2-MW Gamesa turbine for coastal wind research. Already it claims to be "playing a key role in major projects to harness the vast East Coast and Great Lakes wind resources."

UD's goal is to provide independent leadership for offshore wind development to all sides, essentially "a bridge between industry, politicians, and NGOs," pulling from experts, industry, and academia, nationally and internationally, to understand the newest technologies, financing, and opportunities for partnerships, she said. Those efforts won't overlap with what developers do in putting together a project proposal, nor will it facilitate contracts or states' approvals of them -- but it will seek to educate policymakers about "the benefits and urgency" of U.S. offshore wind development, tapping experts both in-house and internationally especially in Europe. "We want to try to catalyze those partnerships," McClellan said, "as we see where those opportunities are." She pointed to the Crown Estate's Round 3 process, which despite some hiccups has pushed the envelope for large-scale development and the infrastructure needed to get there.

Those efforts mean better articulating offshore wind not only analytically but also strategically, she said. When 500-MW of offshore wind come online in New Jersey or Virginia or even the Great Lakes, which individual power plants get curtailed/turned off and how does that get managed, and how does that translate into actual savings? What's the broader implication of laws passed in one state that offer more encouragement for offshore wind development, vs. a state where planning boards do heavier scrutiny of proposals? Other examples include price suppression of offshore wind, and the impact of offshore wind on natural gas usage during cold winters.

The timing of this offshore wind initiative is no coincidence. Right now the DoE is mulling all six of the offshore wind pilot projects that remain under its initial funding, with a decision expected around mid-May to cull those six down to three for additional funding -- which for most if not all of them will be critical to their future. As a more neutral party, UD wants to promote U.S. offshore wind holistically, and part of that could mean elevating the discussion to a more regional thinking. "That's long been discussed" as a way to determine best practices and deal with issues that are being grappled with at the state levels where policies often differ, but states haven't been addressing them collectively, McClelland explained. Understanding the key drivers for regional collaboration is "not an easy task," but it will help broaden the market for offshore wind, she said, by enabling "larger project[s] that can drive bigger benefits."

Lead image: Path to the beach in Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, via Shutterstock

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