Tilting at Windmills?
Delaware may want an offshore wind farm, and the idea has won more confidence than any other similar plan in the nation. But the company that has promised it has a few challenges to overcome, not the least of which is financing. Can Bluewater find its sea legs?
(page 1 of 6)
If you visit the corporate homepage of Bluewater Wind, you’ll likely be mesmerized by a video set to a New Age soundtrack of pan flutes and xylophones. As the music plays, slender white windmills slowly appear, dwarfed by the sea, to stand in stiff formation as their blades pinwheel silently above the waves.
Unlike the grimy energy rush of the past 150 years, which unearthed a black gold responsible for pollutants linked to global warming, the abundant winds off the Northeast coast remain an untapped source of clean, invisible gold that could help undo that damage. University of Delaware researchers in 2007 showed there is enough wind between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to supply—and exceed—existing power requirements in the nine coastal states between them.
Most experts predict that within years, towering offshore wind turbines will rise from Northeastern waters like the hissing, tar-stained oil derricks of the West before them. It’s happening in Europe already.
If Bluewater founder Peter Mandelstam can build the first offshore wind farm 13 miles off Rehoboth Beach, he may just be remembered as the 21st century’s Edwin Drake, who drilled the first oil well in the United States, in Pennsylvania, in 1857.
Bluewater’s success could make Delaware the offshore wind equivalent of oil-rich Texas. It seems only fitting that the nation’s second-smallest state could be the trailblazer for an energy source that, for now, provides only 1 percent of the electricity in the country.
But like its homepage video, Bluewater’s proposal to erect between 60 and 150 turbines is still a dream, no matter how much fanfare has surrounded the firm’s intentions. After it survived some lawmakers’ efforts last year to scuttle a deal with Delmarva Power, Bluewater’s plan to supply power for as many as 50,000 Delaware customers suffered a major setback: The frozen credit markets that crippled the economy and bankrupted scores of companies also left Bluewater’s parent firm, Babcock & Brown International, in peril.
Babcock’s acquisition of Bluewater in 2007 was hailed as an indication that the wind farm had sufficient financial heft. Then debt-burdened Babcock, which operates 25 land-based wind farms in the United States, announced earlier this year that it had started a three-year process to sell off its assets, including Bluewater.
Page 2: Tilting at Windmills?, continues...