Mid-Atlantic Governors Commit to Offshore Wind Energy

Capital News Service
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - The governors of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware agreed Tuesday to a partnership to encourage the deployment of offshore wind energy in the region, hoping to capitalize on the Mid-Atlantic's enormous offshore wind resources.

Govs. Martin O'Malley, Tim Kaine and Jack Markell's agreement aims to generate clean, renewable energy and green jobs.

"Today marks another important step towards a clean energy future for our families and workers. The opportunity for renewable energy generation through offshore wind is outstanding," said O'Malley, in a prepared statement.

"This collaboration will allow us to take full advantage of these opportunities and pool our collective abilities for ... a cleaner and more sustainable region," O'Malley said.

The measure aims to outline methods of offshore energy transmission and encourage market demand for this untapped resource, as well as pursue federal policies that would advance offshore wind in the region.

Generating energy from offshore wind turbines would bring Maryland closer to accomplishing the governor's aggressive environmental initiatives, which include a commitment to producing 20 percent of the state's energy from renewable sources by 2022.

"Maryland is a relatively small state in a global marketplace in respect to offshore wind. So we're trying to work with our neighboring states to brand the Mid-Atlantic as the premiere offshore wind market," said Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration.

"There is a very, very clear line of very, very strong winds -- stronger than in the Midwest -- right off our coast, going from North Carolina all the way up the Northeast," said Ross Tyler, clean energy director at the Maryland Energy Administration.

Maryland has a number of available alternative energy resources.

"But we don't have enormous amounts of space. And really, in order for us to meet the goal of 20 percent by 2022, the other new technology that we can bring into the equation is offshore wind," Tyler said.

There are currently no offshore wind turbines operating in the United States, so these states expect to face challenges.

"We're doing something for the first time, which raises a whole host of hurdles that you've got to jump over," Woolf said.

These hurdles include determining how to lease offshore federal land, how to transmit energy from offshore turbines to onshore load centers and who will fund this transmission process.

The states will also have to confront the not-in-my-backyard outcries and environmental concerns that often accompany discussions of wind energy.

Ocean City residents have balked at the impact that offshore wind turbines might have on their ocean views, even though these turbines "on the clearest of all days ... may appear as a slight toothpick on the horizon," Woolf said.

Elsewhere, including Western Maryland, environmental activists have raised concern over the risk that spinning turbine blades pose to birds and bats.

But the Maryland Energy Administration promises "to address local concerns. So, for example, if the folks in Ocean City decide that they don't want offshore wind, we can focus developers' interests in places where there is greater community acceptance" of wind energy, Woolf said.

The administration also pledges "great sensitivity to the environment, both above the water and below the water," said Tyler.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, called the tri-state agreement "an exciting partnership among three states with enormous clean energy potential."

"But there's a lot of additional work to be done," Tidwell said. "We need more than just a memorandum of understanding. We need actual policies in these states ... that provide the kind of support and level playing field that has been enjoyed by dirty energy for decades."

Just one offshore wind energy project has been approved in Delaware. None have been approved in Maryland or Virginia.

"We're still trying to attract the developers and we're several years away from actually having any wind turbines spinning" offshore, Woolf said.

But these three states now have "a much bigger voice in Washington, to make sure that offshore wind is not ignored," said Woolf.