I have a column out today in the Diamondback about what needs to be done for Maryland to get offshore wind turbines off its coast. Enjoy!
Wind energy: A matter of priorities
By Matt Dernoga
There’s a growing buzz in the state over the enormous potential for offshore wind development off our coast. In early October, Gov. Martin O’Malley held a rally with the United Steelworkers to tout the 4,000 manufacturing jobs and 800 permanent jobs that could be created from a 1,000 megawatt wind farm off our coasts. Google recently joined a partnership to build a $5 billion network of transmission lines along the East Coast. In 10 years, this system will allow mid-Atlantic states to share wind energy when one area of the coast is windy and the other isn’t.
Environmental groups have held town hall meetings around the state with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Energy Administration to inform citizens about offshore wind. At one I attended, they were been joined by NRG Bluewater Wind, a wind energy developer poised to build a 200 megawatt wind farm off the coast of Delaware. Many questions and concerns about offshore wind were answered.
How much wind potential exists off our coast? Enough to meet 67 percent of the state’s electricity needs. What’s the cost? Although offshore wind is a little more expensive than prices in the current state market, you’re locked in to paying for it at the same rate for 25 years because the wind isn’t getting more expensive. Given the volatility of our electricity prices in recent years, this should be a welcome development and will most likely save money in the end. What about birds, fish and the view? The state government has partnered with conservation groups such as the Nature Conservancy and fishermen to map out the ocean and rule out areas that are sensitive to migratory birds and watermen. The areas that are being considered happen to be more than 10 miles off the coast.
The state is sorely lacking one thing: a firm commitment from government to be not just a partner with the offshore wind developers but also a customer. A reason Delaware is ahead of Maryland on offshore wind is because it approved a 200 megawatt Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between Delmarva Power and NRG Bluewater Wind. Wind energy companies need a guaranteed buyer in line before they are willing to risk a major upfront investment into energy infrastructure. Otherwise it’s like buying a house and taking on a mortgage when you don’t have a job.
O’Malley knows this. In July, he co-authored a letter with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell to President Barack Obama asking for the federal government to enter into a PPA for 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind. The letter said this state has already committed to 55 megawatts, alongside Delaware’s 200. What O’Malley glossed over is that the PPA in this state is actually with this university and NRG Bluewater Wind, and it’s for the Delaware project! What a small world in a big ocean.
There are a lot of state government buildings in Annapolis. If we are asking the federal government to commit its buildings to a PPA, why can’t we do it here? We need a significant enough draw for a developer such as NRG Bluewater Wind, which is interested in building a 600 megawatt wind farm off the state’s coast. If the state wants to be on the forefront of the emerging clean energy economy, a PPA for offshore wind needs to be a priority for the newly elected governor and legislature in 2011.
Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com