Annapolis, Maryland, USA — Last week the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) held the first “Maryland Citizen’s Conference on Offshore Wind Power” in Annapolis, the state’s capital. The conference was sponsored by a wide variety of environmental groups as well as United Steelworkers, speaking highly of the diversity of groups interested in the development of offshore wind in the U.S.
A compelling case for the development of offshore wind in Maryland was presented to the overflowing audience of more than 300. More than half of the state’s energy comes from coal and half of that coal comes from destructive surface mining in the western part of the state. Two thirds of MD’s coal-fired power plants are over 30 years old and the tidal marshlands on the Eastern Shore are losing an acre a day as a result of sea-level rise. Finally the MD transmission grid is severely challenged.
The Mid-Atlantic Bight is a 50,000 square-mile portion of the ocean that stretches from New York to Virginia that has promising wind resources in 50-300 feet of water. Robert Mitchell of the Trans-Elect Development Company explained how he hopes to develop a 350-mile offshore power grid to bring wind energy to the nearby population centers.
Mitchell has secured Google as a major investor, which has raised the awareness of his initiative considerably. Mitchell said that this “backbone” for offshore wind farms will be a catalyst for developer interest and help smooth energy production levels as weather systems vary along the length of the grid.
According to policymakers in MD such as state senators Paul Pinsky and Rob Garagiola and delegate Kumar Barve, Maryland is poised to take the lead in offshore wind development. They are sponsoring legislation that would require utilities to enter long-term power purchase agreements in order to reach the state’s goal of 20% renewable energy by 2022.
Offshore wind could be a major component of that goal. The legislators explained that states should take the lead to make renewable energy happen in lieu of a coherent energy policy at the federal level.
An Unlikely Alliance
It’s not every day that environmental activists and blue-collar workers can agree on common goals. But that is exactly what is happening in Maryland and other regions where groups like the United Steelworkers (USW) recognize the incredible manufacturing potential that wind power holds.
At the conference, Jim Strong, Sub-District Maryland Director for the USW explained how jobs will be created if wind turbine components are manufactured domestically. “In a stalled economy, few industries have the potential to bring more jobs to our state than the renewable offshore wind industry,” he said. “We want to make sure our state leads in this economic and environmental area and is not left behind by other states.”
The government of Maryland agrees. Director of Maryland’s Energy Administration, Malcolm Woolf said that the state would like to create 100,000 green jobs by 2015 and estimated that 1000 MW of offshore wind energy would create about 4,000 jobs. This partnership between environmental advocates and blue-collar workers was the most encouraging sign of moving beyond the “us versus them” mentality that has framed the argument for renewable energy to date.
Perhaps most telling of the success of the conference was the broad cross-section of citizens it attracted. “Rarely do you see such a strong coalition united behind so many benefits,” said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of the key sponsors of the event. “When you can create jobs, protect consumers, and help fight global warming, you’ve got the ultimate win-win-win.”
Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, spellbound the aging “hippies” and passionate youth in the audience with his presentation of striking energy statistics. He said that the U.S. should be a leader in the renewable energy economy. Of course, that has been said many times and savvy business investors pointed out that federal government commitment is also needed to streamline the regulatory process and provide long-term guarantees for return on investment.