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Delaware Energy Debate Could Turn on the Wind

When the blades spin, the company says, they will drive a generator, producing power that will run through undersea cables to land.

"The fuel is free" because it's only moving air, said Peter Mandelstam, Bluewater Wind's president, making his case Wednesday during a chamber of commerce breakfast in Lewes, Del.

Mandelstam also stressed that the wind farm would not contribute to climate change, which is blamed for rising sea levels in Delaware and elsewhere. At times, the appeal was less than subtle.

"A third of Delaware will be underwater by 2100," Mandelstam said, citing University of Delaware research. "And we take that very seriously."

Representatives from the coal and gas bids responded that the wind farm would prove an unreliable source of energy, potentially forcing the state to buy power from elsewhere.

"Wind is intermittent. It doesn't blow all the time," said Raymond Long of NRG Energy, which proposed the coal plant. He told the crowd there would be no such problems with coal, because the United States has an abundant supply: "We're essentially the Saudi Arabia of coal."

At a meeting tomorrow in Dover, Delaware officials are expected to give preliminary approval to one of the proposals. They could also choose none of them or a combination. State staff members have recommended a combination of a smaller wind farm and a gas plant that would kick in when the wind doesn't blow.

And even if wind wins tomorrow, serious obstacles will remain. The biggest one might be Delmarva Power, the utility here, which would need to agree to buy electricity from the wind farm. It has come out publicly against all three proposals, saying none of them is cost-effective.

For now, though, the wind farm seems to have generated considerable public support here -- in many cases, because of climate-change concerns. The Delaware Audubon Society has said it believes the windmills can be built in a way that will not pose a serious danger to birds.

"This is an opportunity for our motto to be used," said Ronald Schaeffer, who consults with homeowners and businesses interested in putting up solar panels. He was at the Lewes breakfast. "We are 'The First State,' and we ought to be the first to use renewable energy on a major basis."

Things are a little more complicated, though, in Rehoboth Beach. In an interview along the nearly deserted boardwalk, restaurant worker Stacy Neider said she was concerned that the distant windmills might drive tourists away.

"If there's a lot of them sitting out there, some people might consider it an eyesore," said Neider, working behind the counter at Beach Luncheon.

But others said they could see a brighter side: What if the windmills actually brought more tourists, curious to look at the turbines or to steer a sailboat among them?

And anyway, T-shirt shop worker Barbara Boyer said, it's not like Rehoboth in the summertime is a peaceful, pristine experience .

"The ocean's here," Boyer said, which means the tourists will come. "They put up with crowds, they put up with all the things they have to [to] be here. I can't believe they'd stay away because of a bunch of little windmills."

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