Delaware residents strongly favor offshore wind power as a future source of energy for the state, according to a survey conducted by University of Delaware researchers.
The results are highlighted in an interim report released by the study’s authors, Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton, who are both marine policy scientists on the faculty of UD’s College of Marine and Earth Studies, and doctoral student Andrew Krueger.
When asked to select from a variety of sources to help the state increase its energy supply, more than 90 percent of the 949 Delaware residents responding to the survey supported an offshore wind option – in which whirling wind turbines as tall as 40-story buildings would be erected off the coast to generate electricity – even if wind power were to add between $1 and $30 per month to their electric bills. Fewer than 10 percent voted for an expansion of coal or natural gas power at current prices.
“Based on our results, Delaware could become the Denmark of the United States when it comes to relying on offshore wind power as a major energy source,” Firestone said. “Delawareans are amazingly supportive of it.”
And that came as a surprise to the policy scientists.
In 2004 and 2005, Kempton and Firestone had conducted two surveys of residents of Cape Cod about the controversial Cape Wind project, in which Energy Management Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, proposes to establish a wind farm of 130 423-foot-tall wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. They first interviewed 24 Cape Cod residents face-to-face, then did a larger survey of 500 people.
“The Cape Wind project has been under considerable public debate,” Firestone said. “We found that a plurality of Cape Cod residents was opposed to that project.”
However, the researchers found that nearly 78 percent of Delawareans statewide would give a project identical to Cape Wind a thumbs-up if it were located in Delaware, and only four percent would oppose such a project, with the remainder unsure.
To compare the Cape Cod and Delaware studies, the researchers included matching questions about the Cape Wind project in the Delaware survey and included photo simulations of how a wind farm at sea would appear at various distances, including from six miles from shore, the approximate distance from Hyannis, Mass., to the proposed Cape Wind project.
“Even in the ocean area, where respondents live, on average, about a half-mile from the coast, support for wind power outnumbers opposition by more than 3 to 1 in Delaware,” Firestone noted.
“Interestingly, Delaware respondents who can see the ocean from their home were more supportive of a wind farm, at 59 percent, than all residents of either Cape Cod, at 25 percent, or New Jersey, at 41 percent,” he added, noting that the New Jersey statistic is from a recent poll by non-UD researchers.
What accounts for Delawareans’ positive opinions about offshore wind power?
It could be due to a range of factors, the scientists say, from “a well-financed opposition” to the Cape Wind project on Cape Cod, to increasing public awareness and concern about changing climate and “global warming,” to health impacts and the recent electricity rate hikes in Delaware.
“The short answer is we just don’t know yet why Delawareans are so much more supportive,” Kempton said. “That’s something we’re hoping to determine in the more detailed statistical analysis we’ll be doing next.”
The Delaware survey also included questions to determine any potential effects on beach visitation by in-state residents if a large, 500-turbine wind farm were installed six miles off the state’s coast.
“Our questions first placed the wind farm off the beach that an individual last visited and asked whether it would cause the individual to switch to another beach,” Kempton said.
While 88.6 percent would continue to go to the same beach they last went to in Delaware even if a large wind farm were constructed offshore there, 5.6 percent said they would “switch” to another beach in Delaware, another 3.5 percent said they would go to a beach outside Delaware and 2.4 percent said they would visit no beach at all.
“A 5-6 percent loss of tourism could be a serious impact,” Kempton said. “However, we also asked if people would be inclined to visit a Delaware beach that they did not typically visit, at least once, where a wind farm was visible offshore. The high response, at 84 percent, suggests that the wind turbines would actually draw visitors instead of drive them away.”
As the UD survey was being administered and analyzed this past fall, Bluewater Wind, a company from Hoboken, N.J., announced that it planned to submit a proposal to Delmarva Power & Light, in response to the utility’s solicitation for bids to line up new long-term energy supplies for the state.
The Delaware state legislature had mandated that Delmarva Power & Light solicit the energy bids before the end of 2006 and included preferences for nonpolluting sources of electricity.
“I think interest in wind power and other renewable energy sources is now growing not only in Delaware, but nationally due to the rising cost and long-term supply issues associated with traditional energy sources, as well as other concerns such as global warming,” Kempton said.