For generations, Delaware has depended on renewable energy for some of its basic needs.
In early times, that often meant windmills on farms to pump well water. Or it involved harnessing cascading rivers or streams to power gristmills and sawmills.
More recently, solar energy has become a significant source of electricity for several reasons.
The first is that producing electricity from renewable sources like the sun avoids the consumption of non-renewable resources, including coal or natural gas — both commonly used in power plants.
And, unlike coal or natural gas, renewable energy also does not produce carbon dioxide emissions, a major cause of climate change.
Climate change is considered the world’s most pressing environmental threat, particularly for coastal areas around the globe.
And, worldwide, the efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions are dependent on the use of renewable fuels — and conservation.
In the U.S., despite the Trump administration’s opposition to investing in climate change solutions, individual states are tackling the issue on their own by adopting programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
And Delaware has been at the forefront with its aggressive policies to reduce carbon emissions.
This year, for example, the state is committed to using renewable sources for 17.5 percent of its energy needs. By 2025, the requirement will be 25 percent.
“Delaware is very well positioned from a climate policy standpoint,” said Richard I.G. Jones Jr., The Nature Conservancy’s state director. “And part of the reason is, we’ve done a good job turning to renewable energy.”
Perhaps the most recent renewable energy projects to emerge in Delaware are in the Georgetown area of Sussex County.
On opposite sides of Route 113 between Georgetown and Millsboro, two related entities — Spangler Strategic Advisors and CleanBay Renewables — have proposed projects that could produce clean energy.
The CleanBay Renewables proposal, recently approved by the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, involves the construction of a facility to recycle chicken litter.
The plant would capture methane from the manure, which would be used to generate about 48 megawatt hours of electricity daily.
Across the four-lane highway, Spangler wants to build a 14.9 megawatt “solar array farm” on 70 acres.
Producing renewable energy “is something we feel strongly about,” said Andy Hallmark, spokesman for both companies.
And, in Delaware, solar power seems to be the most popular form of renewable energy, most likely because it is, generally, not intrusive.
Jacob Sneeden, spokesman for Delmarva Power, said they have about 4,600 customers in Delaware with home or business installations, which often involve roof-mounted solar panels.
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Mark Nielson, vice-president of staff services for Delaware Electric Cooperative, said they have about 1,400 customers with solar installations.
The co-op also has a solar energy farm in Georgetown that produces four megawatts of electricity, enough to power 500 homes. It cost $14 million to build.
Nielson said there are plans to expand the solar farm in the near future.
“We can almost double” the existing output, he said.
And the cooperative also buys power from an unlikely source — the Delaware Solid Waste Authority’s Sandtown Landfill in Kent County.
Methane gas, a byproduct of decaying municipal garbage, is captured from the landfill and used to generate enough electricity to supply 500 homes.
Relying on sun power, Paradise Energy Solutions, one of the largest solar panel providers on Delmarva, has installed a number of systems for local farms, homes and businesses.
In Milton, for example, the 1,000 acre Ockels Farms recently had Paradise install solar panels to generate electricity for its nearby operation.
Brad Fox, Paradise branch manager, said the 200 kilowatt solar array on Sand Hill Road produces nearly 98 percent of the farm’s energy needs.
Paradise also installed a 98 kilowatt solar system for the Dutch Country Market in Laurel. In a personal testimonial, Sam Petersheim, owner of the market, said he particularly enjoys watching his electric meter “spin backwards faster than it does forwards sometimes.”
Fox said the utility company will pay for any excess electricity from solar systems like those at the market or the farm.
“It’s a little like creating a bank” of electricity, said Fox.
“We have had great success promoting solar energy in Delaware,” said Thomas Noyes, principal energy planner for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Less popular in Delaware is the use of wind to generate electricity.
“There is not a whole lot of wind except along the coast, which is why solar has been more widely accepted,” said Delaware Electric Co-op’s Nielson.
One notable exception is the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment in Lewes, which features a 256-foot tall wind turbine. The turbine supplies enough electricity to run the entire campus, with enough left over to sell its surplus to the city of Lewes.
“It has been performing quite well,” said Jeremy Firestone, University of Delaware professor and director of the Center for Carbon Free Power Integration.
But Firestone also indicated that wind turbines are costly, which discourages potential users.
“A single project is expensive to maintain,” he said.
Firestone and colleagues also researched the viability of wind power throughout Delaware and reached a conclusion that echoed the sentiments expressed by Nielson.
“It is more viable along the coast because the winds are stronger there,” Firestone said.
But, in certain coastal communities, including Ocean City, there has been public debate about wind turbines in proximity to the Atlantic coast.
“Public sentiment certainly has been a factor,” Firestone said.
Ultimately, renewable energy sources will continue to supplement, not replace, energy from traditional generating plants using coal, natural gas or nuclear power.
“Renewables are definitely gaining a foothold but we still need (electricity) sources for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” said Nielson.